Public Opinion Staff Writer
After a year of using Apple iPads, Watertown High School students will go back to laptops next school year.
Following recommendations from administrators, the Board of Education unanimously voted last Monday to sign a $1,453,920 three-year lease-purchase agreement for 1,560 MacBook Airs with Apple Financial Services.
The board’s decision marks a reversal from the previous April, when a trial run made by the 2016-2017 freshmen convinced administrators and teachers that iPads could let students complete the necessary schoolwork at a lesser expense than the previously used MacBook Pros.
According to Principal Dr. Mike Butts, that still mostly rings true.
“The iPads are a very good tool. They do about 90 percent of what we need to do,” Butts said Wednesday.
When it came to upper level students taking dual credit courses, the iPads proved incompatible with the college format.
Butts said that did not come as a complete surprise.
“We were kind of aware of that and that there would be a need for kids to have some sort of laptop device if they were enrolled in those dual credit courses,” he said. “The issue we really weren’t aware of was just exactly how many that was going to be. We have about one-fourth of our students who really need to have another device for that reason.”
Butts said the more powerful laptops are also necessary in the fields of accounting, business and computer science. The school did keep some MacBook Pros on hand for those courses.
The remaining MacBook Pros moved to the five K-4 elementary schools, thereby expanding the district’s one-to-one technology program to all grade levels.
Over time, administrators, teachers and students found more areas where the laptop made for more efficient learning.
“There are other little pieces that we looked at where we could get by with the iPad but were much more efficient and better supported if there was a laptop device,” Butts said.
According to Supt. Dr. Jeff Danielsen, the MacBook Airs proved to be a lower cost laptop alternative compared to newer MacBook Pros. Danielsen indicated that other brands were not considered.
“There’s an extensive Mac environment already here. It was realistic for our technology department to stay within those parameters,” he said. “(The MacBook Air) became the most cost efficient for a laptop.”
MacBook Airs also provide a durability advantage over MacBook Pros as the former has less moving parts, including a solid-state hard drive.
“The wear-and-tear for a one-to-one where kids are taking them out and taking them home makes for a more durable machine,” Danielsen said.
Although the lease runs for three years, administrators are hoping to get five years out of the laptops before replacing them. Once the lease is up, Danielsen said the machines carry a $1 buyout.
“Those payments will come out right out of the tech budget but they will not consume the entire tech budget. We’ll be able to make the lease payment as well as still be able to take care of the other areas of tech needs,” he said.
Once the laptops arrive in July, the iPads will be distributed to Watertown Middle School and the five elementary schools.
At the elementary level, the year-old iPads will replace older iPads. Meanwhile at WMS, some currently used Chromebooks will be repurposed for staff members who must clock in and out while others will be sold.