By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair hopes to one day outfit every student in the district with a school-issued laptop for classroom work and homework, starting in fifth grade.

That was one of the ongoing projects discussed during the Feb. 19 Board of Education meeting.

“I’m really excited to present about this topic right here, because of all the numerous devices that we have in the district,” said Christopher Graber, the district’s new technology director.

When he started as technology director last year, the technology department did an inventory of all the district-owned electronic devices. The final count was about 1,900.

The district hopes to have every middle school student in Montclair outfitted with a school-issued laptop, either a Chromebook or a similar device, through what is known as a 1:1 (one to one) initiative. The technology department is looking at a phase-in plan to make sure students are outfitted with laptops starting in the sixth grade.

“We want to look at grade six, we want to look at all the students in the district, figure out a wise, thoughtful plan. We understand that it costs a lot of money, encumbering money and getting funds to pay for these devices,” Graber said.

As of Feb. 19, the technology department was collecting data on its 1:1 programs to determine how to proceed.

Renaissance was the first school to allow students to take the devices home. The school issues each student a Chromebook laptop, which is used for lessons in the classroom and for homework. Each student is responsible for bringing the laptop to school each day, fully charged, and for keeping it in good working condition. At the start of the school year, the student and their parents sign a technology-use agreement.

Graber said the devices are insured, and the vendors will repair damage that is covered under the warranty. The technology department also has several in-house technicians that do repairs and assess damages.

“There’s nothing we can’t fix,” Graber said.

The preliminary 2018-19 budget includes 1:1 phase planning at $100,000 a year, over three years, with a total cost of $315,000.

Board member Priscilla Church inquired whether the district could seek out grants from technology companies, such as Microsoft, to help pay for purchasing new computers and other devices. Superintendent Kendra Johnson said that was a possibility. However, she added that in many cases, grants from technology companies come with strings attached, including requiring schools to teach certification courses. Montclair may not have the capability to do so, she said.

Montclair is also in the process of joining Future Ready New Jersey, an organization of New Jersey schools committed to using technology in the classroom in effective ways. The organization offers three levels of certification: bronze, silver and gold.

The district had started to apply for certification last year, but the process was put on hold, Graber said.

“We’re going to be a gold district eventually, I promise you that.”