A committee to study the future technology needs of Paducah schools, particularly the possibility of equipping each of Paducah Tilghman High School’s 800 students with laptop computers, will hold its first meeting later this month.
Attorney Glenn Denton, a 1988 graduate of Paducah Tilghman who now has two children attending Clark Elementary, approached the board in April about exploring the so-called one-to-one laptop initiative. McCracken County Schools plan to spend $2 million to equip its high school students with MacBook laptops this fall.
“In the area of education, technology is sometimes overlooked,” he said. “It can be a tool, a very useful tool, but it has to be the right tool, one whose focus is on improving educational attainment.”
Dale Weaver, director of information technologies for the district, said the committee must agree on what its goals are before diving into a complex project.
“We need to look at, is this what Paducah Independent Schools looks like it needs, or do we need to go in a different direction?” he said. “What I don’t want is to just jump in to ‘what kind of hardware are we going to buy?’
“This is No. 1 an instructional decision, and No. 2 a technology decision. If everyone is not on board with this project, it’s ultimately going to fail. We have to have training, because the teachers need to be prepared to teach in that environment, or the laptops become just expensive paperweights.”
The committee consists of Weaver, board member Carl LeBuhn, Finance Director Julie Huff and Assistant Superintendent Vickie Maley from the district; Principal Art Davis, Dean of Student Affairs Allison Steig and six teachers from Paducah Tilghman; as well as Denton and Ehab Marji, a professor at West Kentucky Community & Technical College.
Weaver said he expects the committee to meet at least once a month, probably through the end of the year, and to hear from people in districts that have tried similar programs. He said it’s important to invite both proponents and skeptics to give the committee a balanced view as well as force the members to consider alternate methods.
“It’s certainly something districts need to be looking at, at least researching the benefits and setbacks,” Weaver said. “The thing I’m concerned about is that there are 50 different ways to do the same thing, and we need to find the right fit for our district. We have to research it from the ground up.”
Denton said with employers moving away from desktop computers to wireless, mobile technology, it’s important that students are exposed to that to prepare them.
“I think computer labs in schools are somewhat symptomatic of that old way of thinking,” Denton said. “If we can get a student to sit at his or her home with a laptop and get 30 additional minutes of education because he doesn’t have to be at computer lab, I think that’s something we ought to explore. If we could get a teacher to do the same thing, and get a teacher and student to connect during those 30 additional minutes, then I think we’ve really done something.”