MAPS school board approves technology upgrades

MANISTEE — Elementary students at Manistee Area Public Schools next year will be carrying brand new Apple iPads to class after the school board unanimously approved a proposal to purchase new technology from Apple during the district’s meeting on April 13.

Ken Blakey-Shell, the district’s director of technology, told the board during a work study session on March 29 the district has been on a four-year cycle for technology replacements for quite some time and the equipment is starting to show its age.

“The big issue is the batteries. A lot of them are holding up really well, but for some of them, the battery life just isn’t there or we’ve had batteries fail,” he said. “That gets really expensive when we try to keep maintaining it and fixing it, but it also really eats into classroom efficiency. If all of a sudden kids are throwing up their hand saying they have to charge their iPad or whatever, it can really disrupt the class.

“We’re in a good place right now but we’re definitely getting to the point where we need to refreshing this hardware.”

The district will purchase 690 10.2-inch iPads for its K-6 students, paraprofessionals and school board members; 60 10.9-inch iPad Airs for teachers; and 60 Apple Pencils for teachers. The equipment comes to a total cost of $242,640.

Howard Vaas, business manager for the district, said MAPS will pay for the upgrades using its general fund.

“We’re going to write a check for this,” he said. “There have been years where we’ve done things to spread our payments out but this is within our means to do, so we’re just going to make a cash payment.”

Blakey-Shell said the new iPads will offer twice the storage capacity of what students have been using.

“The current iPads we have right now are 32 (gigabytes), but this bumps it up to 64. That’s another one of those pieces that can get to be kind of a disruption,” he said. “… If all of a sudden a kid’s iPad gets full of stuff and they can’t do anything else, then they have to delete pictures or whatever content they have on there to free up some space. Having 64 gigs gives them a little more breathing room and makes it so it’s a little bit more efficient for our teachers.”

MAPS teachers are currently using iPad Pro devices, but Blakey-Shell said the district has opted to purchase iPad Airs for this cycle because the Pro offers features which would not be utilized in a school environment.

“An Air is kind of a tier down, but Apple is trying to make the Pro very much dedicated to graphic artists and people who are doing very graphics-intensive stuff, whereas before it was more of an all-around kind of business use scenario while also covering graphic design,” Blakey-Shell said. “The Air is just a more appropriate device, especially considering it’s all hopped up with the latest and greatest stuff.”

Blakey-Shell said the new iteration of the Apple Pencil offers improvements such as better ergonomics and improved ease in charging, and is a key piece of technology for teachers.

“It basically gives them the equivalent of interactive whiteboards have them in their hands where they can be mobile within the room when in combination with the Apple TVs,” he said. “So that’s a key piece of educational technology that we make available to our teachers.”

Board member Justine Slawinski asked if all the technology would be available considering the worldwide silicone chip shortage.

“That’s the big reason we’re talking about this right now. When I checked with our Apple rep, the lead times had just gone from about nine weeks down to like six or seven,” Blakey-Shell said. “… That will still make it so we have it in time for summer and we’ll be able to prep everything and not be scrambling.”

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