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School administrators justify iPad purchases
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In recent weeks numerous anonymous complaints have been made to the Turlock Journal concerning a recent $20,000 purchase of Apple iPads for Turlock Unified School District administrators and certain teachers. The complaints circulated around the idea that administrators were wasting money on iPads and letting teachers go without much needed technological upgrades in TUSD classrooms.

According to TUSD officials, the iPads were purchased in compliance with the federally funded American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Title II program, which provided funds to schools for professional development and training that is tied to district curriculum and research based and impacts student’s achievement scores and levels.

Of those Title II funds, 75 percent had to be spent on actual technology hardware, in this case the iPads, and 25 percent had to be spent on training, in this case the iPad training for administrators and certain teachers.

 “The iPads are directly being used for our Sheltered Intervention Observation Protocol (SIOP),” said Lacrisha Ferriera, TUSD educational services assistant superintendent.

The SIOP program is basically a way for school administrators to evaluate teachers’ instructional methods and provide feedback and coaching for them.

The SIOP has been implemented over the last three years as a mandatory requirement while TUSD is in program improvement. Program improvement is a federal mandate that requires school districts with lackluster student performance scoring to refocus, change and improve student performance to meet the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind) performance requirements.

The primary action of SIOP is frequent principal walk-throughs in classrooms. Following the walk-throughs principals (or district personnel) provide a teacher with feedback on how to improve teaching methods.         

Before the iPads were purchased district and school administrators provided the feedback on hand written forms far too small for in-depth commentary and reports. Later, larger forms were created with more in-depth discussion points for teacher evaluations. The discussion points were then written into a report for teachers to read and then adjust their teaching style as recommended. According to Ferriera, the process was “lengthy, time consuming and wasted paper.”

“With the iPads we wanted to improve the quickness in which we provide feedback to teachers. After the SIOP form is completed it is immediately e-mailed to the teacher and the teacher can immediately take those suggestions and implement them. The iPads are another tool we are using to improve our instructions,” said TUSD superintendent Sonny Da Marto. “We are trying to go paperless and these will save money and trees.”

Da Marto indicated that critics of the purchase were off-base with their ideas about the iPad purchases. “This is not an extravagance where administrators are taking the iPads home and using them for (recreational) purposes. They are a tool. Administrators are using them for a work calendar, working e-mail, taking notes and minutes and even using them for voice recognition to transcribe conversations.”

Administrators will also be able to use the iPads to download state and federal content standards and assessment schedules, master schedules and class rosters.

“Knowing a class roster can be incredible. You could identify English learners and when a principal walks into a class they can identify exactly who is in the seats and then adjust their coaching so the teacher can reach all the kids in the room,” said Ferriera.

In addition, the iPads will soon be receiving upgrades which could assist special education teachers communicate with children with severe disabilities.

TUSD officials say that they have notified teachers of the iPad purchases and were surprised that complaints were made.

“I don’t know of a single class where a teacher doesn’t have the tools they need. If they don’t I’d like to know about it,” said Da Marto, who also added that the district eventually plans to put Wi-Fi Internet access on each TUSD campus and expand iPad usage in the coming years.

“This is cutting edge technology, we’re not going to buy a 1937 Buick when we can wait a little while and buy a new car,” said Da Marto.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 63409141 ext. 2015.