District holds back on rollout of Chromebooks at high schools

Gabriella Backus, Editor

LUSD has racheted down a plan to roll out Chromebooks for all students in 7-12 to simply piloting the program at one high school: Delta Middle College, located on the San Joaquin Delta College campus.

These stripped-down laptops known as Google Chromebooks — cheap, lightweight and simplistic in design — have become a staple in American education, and no one has been more surprised by its success than Google itself.

Chromebooks initially made their way into classrooms as early as 2013. According to a 2015 report from Futuresource Consulting, Chromebook sales account for more than half of all US classroom devices sold, compared to less than one percent in 2012. Google, Microsoft and Apple have been consistently pushing for a bigger share in classroom education sales, but even Kan Liu, the senior director of product management at Google, appeared stunned at the sudden technological buzz.

“What surprised us was how quickly it took off in education,” Liu said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Bear Creek first adopted Chromebooks for the 2016-2017 school year when the district implemented the “One to One” initiative. With this project, every student in a core subject would have a Chromebook, and school sites could choose to purchase Chromebooks for non-core subjects. Currently,

Bear Creek has Chromebook carts in the majority of its classroom, but some classrooms share and certain Visual Arts/Performing Arts (VAPA) classrooms have none.

On February 15, LUSD’s District Technology Advisory Committee sent a district-wide e-mail survey seeking input from parents, students and district staff about a new “Wow” Plan. The survey adjusts its questions according to the answer to the first question: “What is your relationship to the school?” One can answer “student,” “parent/guardian,” “teacher/educational staff,” “administrator” or “site support staff.”

“A new Wow plan, which would allow Chromebooks to be checked out by all 7-12 students the entire year, is being considered,” the email said. “These basic computers would be available for use both at school and home, just as with textbooks.”

LUSD’s chief business officer Leonard Kahn first remembers the digital discussion in late fall of 2017, but a plan wasn’t finalized until March 2018.

“[The initial plan was that] everyone, all students, would have Chromebooks to take home,” Principal Hillary Harrell said. “While students have access to tech on campus, they might not have it at home. We have a lot of big families in this area and it might be too hard for them to get their homework done. We’re pushing for students to use Google Classroom and moving away from the paper-based work.”

The initial idea, which Kahn implemented successfully at two of his previous sites, the Merced Union High School District and Yosemite Unified School District, was met with hesitance at LUSD. Although many district voters agreed with the necessity to digitize, the plan will not be implemented district-wide as many questioned the intricacies of the plan.

“Repurposing the Chromebooks in the classroom causes a lot of concern,” Harrell said. “The decision has been made to slow down the process a little bit. It’s changed from the whole district participating to a pilot system.”

Bear Creek will not be participating in the pilot program; in fact, no LUSD high school will, aside from Delta Middle College. The task was considered too complex to accomplish at large schools in the short amount of time before the next school year. Only LUSD middle and elementary schools will participate.

“Teachers and librarians were worried about how this would look in terms of implementation,” Harrell said. “It’s a large scale effort that we never tried before. There was nervousness it would backfire.”

If the plan proves successful during the 2018-2019 school year, it will most likely continue into high schools — although nothing is set in stone until the school board votes for its extension.

Harrell is optimistic about the shift to the pilot program’s benefits. She believes the middle school pilot system will teach students how to manage their Chromebooks before they come into high school, and by that time, the plan will likely be extended district-wide.