In order to prepare for the future where off-site instruction for students may be needed, Knox County Schools is proposing a plan to provide a device for every student, grades K-12, beginning in the 2020- 2021 school year. While the district has some student Chromebooks that have been purchased by schools and departments over the years, only 6,000 of these units will be under support by the end of the 2020-21 school year. Schools will be able to continue to utilize those units for on-site work, but the district strongly believes it is imperative that a device is supplied for all students for home use. These would be replaced on a 5-year cycle.
The district is proposing using the CARES Act to fund technology device acquisition and supports for the FY21 budget year. However, it is important to note that funding for devices will be a recurring budget expenditure from this point forward.
Annual budget (millions of dollars)
3-year lease payment (60,000 devices) $5.00 Staff laptops (1,000 devices per year) $0.85 Other (off-site filtering, protective cases, etc.) $1.15 $7.00m
- $250/student device (Chromebook)
- $850/staff device (Windows or Apple laptop)
- Student devices paid over 3-years (i.e., lease), staff devices purchased
- Optional parent insurance proposed ($30 per device) for damage up to but not including total loss
- District will explore options and community partnerships to offer free or reduced-price home internet service
Questions and Answers
The following questions were submitted by BOE in preparation for the May 6, 2020 board meeting.
1. Are there any software limitations with Chromebooks? Can Microsoft Office be used on the model the district is planning to purchase?
Microsoft Office Web apps can be used on Chromebooks; however, there are some software limitations with Chromebooks. For the majority of our students, Chromebooks would be suitable technology. Students enrolled in some courses of study, particularly CTE-related courses such as coding, would require more robust devices. For specialty classes, CTE would continue to provide the equipment for those courses that require these more robust machines.
2. There have been some reported issues by teachers using Zoom on Chromebooks. Can we be assured that it will work? How about Microsoft Teams?
KCS will emphasize the use of Teams and Canvas for remote interaction. The district has already offered 14 Microsoft Teams trainings which were attended by anywhere from 15-45 people in each session. We have tailored the offering each week based on attendance.
3. Regarding the quality of the Dell Chromebook, it is one of the top recommendations for schools, according to one website. Can you explain the choice of this product, the quality, expected life, etc.?
Our staff has examined many comparable devices on the market and feels comfortable that this model is one of the leaders. Additionally, all KCS technicians (31) are Dell-certified, allowing us to easily access parts and do warranty work in-house.
4. L&N STEM is an Apple Distinguished School, where students use MacBooks. How will this plan work for students who are required to take coding? Will they continue with MacBooks and will there be any district support in terms of new devices?
The district is continuing to have discussions around the type of device that will meet the programmatic needs at L&N STEM. The district proposal includes cycling out devices that are no longer supported or are at the end of life and establishing a replacement cycle that is sustainable and provides students with current technology and support.
5. Under normal school circumstances, will there be flexibility as to whether the computers are kept at school or sent home?
Yes, if we open under normal circumstances on August 10, we will defer to schools on how to best use these learning tools, including whether devices must go home each night. Our hope would be that we can take a full year to train teachers and support each school's plan to incorporate technology as a tool.
6. What types of staff training will we be doing over the summer to make sure that staff is fully trained and supportive of 1:1?
The week after Spring Break, we began offering daily online training for all teachers and staff. These have been well attended, though many of our staff were already trained in platforms like Canvas, especially at the high school level.
We have also worked with a team of teachers, administrators, coaches, and district-level folks to prepare a robust online training program that will launch in May and extend through June. These trainings will represent most of the teacher training offered in May and June. While we would prefer to take a less aggressive approach to the roll-out, the current circumstances will not allow this.
On Friday, May 8, we will offer a Canvas training course for teachers to complete while still on contract. This course will be for every educator, no matter their skill level. In June, we will be launching Reimagine Learning, which will have components to help guide teachers in thinking about their classroom and how we can anchor all this work with our Knox County Schools Strategic Plan.
7. Will there be parent trainings and workshops?
We have plans to support parents with videos and tutorials on the district-supported technologies, and we encourage our schools to layer in trainings for any technologies that are school-specific. Part of the Reimagine Learning in KCS training will ask administrators to think about a communication plan and training for families. We will provide some district tutorials but believe that deeper learning will happen at the school level.
8. Will there be some education and pre-teaching for our youngest students on how to use an actual computer with a QWERTY keyboard?
The district is proposing the purchase of touch screen Chromebooks for grades K-2 because that device has a “tablet” mode that does not require keyboard skills. We agree that this plan only works if students know how to use the technology; therefore, we have plans to teach them how to use the devices and to reinforce appropriate usage. We also have plans to support parents with videos and tutorials on district-supported technologies, and we encourage our schools to layer in training for any technologies that are school-specific.
9. Should teachers only receive a new device once they have completed a set training for online learning? Giving them a device without training does not equate to us being better prepared for the next time something closes school.
Teachers are already expected to use a computer in their classroom, at least for taking attendance and entering grades. They will use that same device for communication and instruction.
We will be providing training for Canvas and professional learning sessions about how to reimagine our classrooms. Building-level administration will help in providing the urgency and plans for completion of the learning to fully put into effect the vision.
10. If the Board approves 1:1, we will need clear communication with parents and staff. Some in the community have a preconceived idea that 1:1 means kids will be using computers all day, every day, and taking them home.
KCS has always viewed computers and online resources as a tool to support learning, never as a replacement for the role of the teacher and his/her relationship with kids. Part of the training plan – Reimagine Learning – is about casting vision for using the device as a tool to remain connected when circumstances prevent us from being together in person. It also includes support for communicating with parents, providing parent/caregiver training on district- and school-supported technologies, conducting virtual open house sessions, and teacher collaboration sessions. If we are in another extended building closure, our educational plans would push teachers to avoid having students on devices all day long. They are the tool for maintaining connections.
Digital Learning is the model we are sharing with teachers where technology is used to enhance instructional practice. We believe that learning for students can take place both face-to-face and via a computer. During a “normal schedule”, teachers will have the autonomy to develop their classroom model and determine what percentage of a student’s learning will be online and what will be face-to- face. We understand that if we are truly preparing our students for the future, they should be taught how to engage appropriately with technology to further enhance their learning.
11. Can you provide a clear explanation of 1:1 funding (CARES) and future costs, etc.?
KCS is anticipated to receive approximately $12.8 million. The federal government allocated dollars to each state, and Tennessee based their district allocation levels on an LEA’s relative share of Title I poverty. We will also be required to release a portion of these dollars to private schools and the charter (like we do with other federal funds such as Title I and IDEA). We’re still in the process of determining the exact amount, but we believe it could be as much as $1 million.
Acceptable uses for these funds (based on communication from the State Department of Education) include the following: providing principals and school leaders resources to address local needs; planning for long-term closures; addressing unique needs of special populations; purchasing education technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity); providing summer learning and supplemental after-school programs (including online learning); providing mental health services; and conducting other activities necessary to maintain the operation of services and employing existing staff and coordination activities.
We continue to seek clarification on the specifics. Unfortunately, detailed information provided by federal and state officials has been less than ideal to this point. Officials from the state have told us that they hope to have answers to our questions within the next couple of weeks, as they are also seeking guidance from the federal government.
12. Is the funding proposal $7 million for a 3-year rental? What exactly is the time frame for this expenditure and what is the budgetary impact in years going forward?
The $7 million annual budget also includes an amount for a 5-year cycled replacement of teacher devices (i.e., 20% per year) and additional supports for a 1:1 initiative. Additional supports include a management platform and off-site filtering while students are working outside our network. The actual lease cost is being refined as we speak. It will be approximately $5 million per year for 3 years (total of $15 million), depending on the final number of devices ordered.
13. If the district does not cut positions, how will the $7 million in replacement costs be funded in the future?
The expectation is that this technology enhancement would be subject to annual budgetary review like any other component within the General Purpose budget. While we do not have a future funding stream specifically earmarked for this initiative, we also do not have guaranteed future funding streams specific to any other items within the budget either. For instance, BEP funding has always been insufficient for funding required teaching positions. The level of local funding streams is not guaranteed, either, as we are experiencing in our current budget challenge. Every year, we must make difficult choices within our budget resulting from funding constraints.
While we understand these one-time federal dollars would largely be utilized for potentially recurring expenditures (in this case for technology needs), we believe such an investment would be a practical use of these dollars given 1) the challenges we have encountered during this closure in providing equitable and accessible instruction for all our students; 2) the uncertainty of events potentially impacting the next school year, and 3) the allowable uses for these funds as established by the federal government. Obviously, it would be more problematic, from a recurring expenditure standpoint, to invest these dollars into something like additional classroom positions, salary enhancements, etc., aside from the fact that doing so might not even be an allowable use of the funds anyway.
14. The plan lists a 5-year replacement schedule, but a 3-year lease agreement. What happens in the remaining 2 years?
There would likely be several options, one of which could be a combination of budgetary savings coupled with a continuing investment at a lower level to build a reserve for technology sustainability.
15. What maintenance is included in the lease agreement?
Devices will have a 2-year warranty.
16. Has anyone explored a possible yearly fee to recoup some of the cost? (Like we do with band instruments or lab fees)
The $30 insurance amount will go into a “self-insurance” fund which will be used to pay for parts and repairs.
17. The last time we discussed district-wide devices, we were told that a 4-year replacement schedule would be necessary. What has changed?
The device has changed. MacBook Pros were more expensive to purchase and to repair and their expected life was estimated at 4 years at that time. The devices being purchased will have guaranteed support through June 2026 (Google).
18. Will any monies be allocated for schools to do repairs on Chromebooks in the event they stop working due to various issues? Also, if there is an issue with a student’s Chromebook, will there be any extra devices on hand to allow the student to continue participating in distance learning?
We will provide additional devices at each school (based on enrollment) that can be swapped out quickly if a device is inoperable. Because there are no files/data stored on the Chromebook, the student simply logs in to the new device to continue working. All IT technicians are Dell certified and will keep parts in stock to repair damaged units. Inoperable devices would be picked up by field technicians, repaired locally, and returned to the school.
Parents will have a $30 insurance option that will go into a “self-insurance” fund to pay for parts and repairs.
19. How are parents charged for repairs if they do not have insurance? If they refuse to or cannot pay, what happens?
Parents will be provided a schedule of repairs. Typical repairs range from $30-$80 and will be charged as a fine if the parent does not opt into the insurance. The total loss of the device will result in a charge of $200.
20. Will the district be providing bags or backpacks for the devices, so they are protected?
Yes, the district will provide protective cases and students will be expected to keep their device in that case.
21. Will there be added tech support at each school? How is this envisioned?
Tech support is provided in nine “pods” or regions with multiple technicians assigned to each group. Technicians will respond based on “trouble tickets” entered by a staff member. As previously stated, Chromebooks can be swapped in a matter of minutes to allow students to continue work by simply logging in to a new device.
22. How many additional positions will KCS need to assist with tech and PD support?
Due to budgetary constraints, no additional positions will be requested at this time.
23. Is there a plan to address WiFi connectivity for ALL who need it (teachers and students)?
We are actively working with community partners to assist with options for affordable home internet and infrastructure to engage providers in less served areas of the county.
The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce has formed a task force to focus on how the community can help with connectivity challenges, and we are participating. We believe increased internet accessibility could benefit every citizen of Knox County.
24. There are some concerns about young elementary kids being on devices too much. Will there be different plans for in-school vs. out-of-school usage, especially in these primary grades?
Technology in the classroom is a tool for a teacher to enhance his/her teaching. KCS does not believe traditional teaching techniques and activities should be replaced by screen time. We do, however, believe students need to learn from an early age about usage and time management of technology in the learning environment.
Additionally, we are using the guidance from Early Learning and Educational Technology Policy Brief (October 2016) jointly released by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology to inform our plan and professional development for educators. We believe that technology should not replace unstructured, interactive play for our students. It is through Reimagine Learning in Knox County Schools that we can guide the conversation and plan for developmentally appropriate use of technology for our students. For example, a best-practice model for our young learners is to promote an active use of technology (producing rather than consuming) that includes interaction with an adult. We believe that through appropriate guidance and modeling by the adults, learning can be extended beyond what might be normally possible without the technology.
We are encouraging dialogue between educators and families to raise awareness about managing screen time for students. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives guidance about screen usage.
25. Can our device management cause devices to turn off by a certain time each night?
We are still exploring management software and will consider available features. We will have discussions with principals and teachers to discuss best practices for configuring those options.
26. If a student already owns their own device, could it be used in place of the county having to spend money on one for their child?
At this time, the district is not set up for full implementation of “Bring your own device.” We will continue to pilot this concept; however, allowing that creates equity issues, as well as security concerns around appropriate use. With district-managed devices, we can limit access and monitor the content that would not be possible on student-owned devices.
27.Will there be clear guidance on expectations with the computers? Are we only wanting them returned safe and sound at the end of the year? Are we going to try and police the activity of students on the device while off-campus?
The district will issue clear policies about acceptable use and parents will need to sign, indicating their agreement. There will be management software that will prevent students from accessing inappropriate or harmful content in most cases. However, no software is foolproof.
28. How will 1:1 affect snow days, etc? Will we allow students to take computers home in case of snow? Will they be utilized during snow, flu days, etc.?
We do not yet have a proposed plan for inclement weather, but the deployment of 1:1 devices does open up possibilities for those types of situations. Other districts have used this effectively when students have been out of school for an extended period due to illness or inclement weather.
29. Can you address the issue of new material being taught should we have to be out of school in the fall?
We have formed committees dedicated to each grade band that are currently working on re-engagement plans for the fall. These three teams are working through a variety of scenarios to address two topics: 1) How will we address the learning loss due to the extended closure of spring 2020? and 2) How will we deliver new content in the fall if we return to less-than-ideal conditions for traditional school?
These plans are still under development but include voluntary summer learning opportunities for students. All students will receive exposure to the essential content they missed when they return to school in the fall. If that return is delayed or if students return but guidelines such as social distancing remain in effect, technology directed by a teacher of record will be the primary source of communication and interaction.
30. What will be removed from staff requirements to allow them to meet new and/or additional expectations?
There will be no new requirements (see question #15). Teachers are already expected to use a computer in their classroom, minimally for taking attendance, and entering grades. They will use that same device for communication and instruction.
31. What is the potential for overloading the KCS network and or individual school networks?
KCS has made significant improvements across all schools (network and WiFi upgrades) over the past several years. If a “dead spot” is identified, we have the capacity to quickly address it.
32. If we require online classwork in the future, what is the potential impact to local network infrastructure when 60,000 students and 4,000 teachers all connect, at the same time? Has this been discussed with local internet providers?
We do not expect that our network will exceed its capacity as we do not expect all users to engage in high-demand activities at the same time (e.g., video chat or streaming). We work regularly with our internet service provider to make sure that our internet egress exceeds what is required during even the highest-use case.