School board candidates on the issues: Has the implementation of Apple devices in the classroom been a success?

Share this story:

As part of the initiative launched in 2014, every Shawnee Mission student has his or her own Apple device.
As part of the initiative launched in 2014, every Shawnee Mission student has his or her own Apple device.

We continue this morning with item four from our questionnaire for the Shawnee Mission Board of Education candidates:

4.) In 2014, the district launched its “one-to-one” technology initiative, investing tens of millions to provide every student with his or her own Apple MacBook or iPad. Since the roll out, some teachers have expressed concern about lack of training opportunities on integrating the devices into lesson plans. Some parents have complained that their kids are spending a good deal of time of the devices for non-classroom activities. Do you think the one-to-one initiative has been a success? Why or why not? Does anything with the program need to change?

Note: We have asked the two candidates in the race for the SM East area seat, Mary Sinclair and James Lockard, to participate in the questionnaire ahead of the August 1 vote even though there isn’t a primary in that race so that they have the chance to share their views on these topics as well. We’ll be developing a new questionnaire on different issues ahead of the general election.

We did not receive responses from at-large incumbent Cindy Neighbor or at-large challenger Fabian Shepard to the first, second, third or fourth questionnaire items.

At-large race

Mandi Hunter

Mandi_300Technology is an integral part of our society so embracing it as an educational tool is a proactive step but the implementation of this district initiative is lacking. Opportunities abound, but the district needs to develop measurable goals which would show the efficacy of the project. Without those measurement tools, we do not have the data to determine whether the one-to-one initiative is a success.

As I’ve stated in previous answers, the next superintendent of our district must have the experience and demeanor to engage technology and provide necessary support to the teachers, parents and students to implement future initiatives. Advisory boards must be implemented to gain information from parents, teachers, industry experts, and best practices from similar efforts across the country to work toward setting consistent policies and curriculum at each educational level.

As a parent of children currently enrolled in the district, issues concerning use of district-issued technology are vast. The concerns include whether there is data to support any benefit to the continual use of digital technology by children. As a society, we have to acknowledge the use of technology as a tool in our day-to-day lives but as parents we are balancing that use of technology as a teaching tool with the unknown of its impact on developing children in terms of cognitive development, its effect on a child’s eyesight, and the lessened emphasis on basic learned skills such as handwriting and math calculations.

In addition, there are practical concerns when implementing a technology initiative such as consistent filters on technology, parent liability for loss or breakage of the device, and whether children have the resources at home to use the technology. There are several reasons parents choose not to provide technology to their children but when the district mandates its use, it removes that decision from the parents.

Teachers must be given training opportunities and professional development to maximize their use of technology as a tool in the classroom. Adequate support should lead to consistent use of the technology across grade levels within the same school and throughout schools in the district. Advisory boards can assist in streamlining the initiative and addressing concerns of both parents and teachers. A superintendent that appreciates the use of technology in the classroom as well as openness to opinions with regard to any initiative, not just this one, is imperative to future success of the district’s technology initiatives.

Heather Ousley

Ousley_300I believe the roll-out of the one-to-one initiative was well-intentioned. However, due to the lack of input from parents prior to its implementation, and due to the lack of support and training provided to educators, we’ve had a rocky start, and there is room for improvement. Roughly 50% of the students in the SMSD are in the free and reduced lunch program, and it is vital that students who might not otherwise have access to the same technology as their peers receive that access in school, so they can be competitive with these tools as they grow. However, many parents have expressed concern to me regarding their worries about what would happen if their child damaged a device and they could not financially afford to replace it, and others have expressed concern that they have yet another device they have to police at home. At least one mother I’ve spoken with felt that the devices harmed her child’s ability to concentrate, as he found journaling on the iPad (as required in his classroom) too distracting, and he simply gave up the practice of writing in a journal every day. She expressed frustration that there is currently no “opt out” policy for parents who prefer their child avoid screen time that they feel may be more than what is generally recommended for children by health professionals.

Some teachers have voiced frustration with what they felt was an overnight switch from how they operated their classrooms previously, to moving everything to an iPad or MacBook. I believe a parent and technology expert working group or sub-committee would be useful to help provide guidance on how best to implement the use of the devices. We need to capitalize on their benefits, and implement policy restrictions that can help reduce the negatives. Rather than swinging from one extreme (perhaps limited or too few exposures to technology) to the other (every assignment connected to a device), an integration that more holistically incorporated the tools to supplement and improve the learning experience would be useful. It would be further useful to have evidence based research upon which to base the use of the technology, as opposed to simply implementing its use for the sake of change.

Robert Roberge

Roberge_300When the PC first emerged, surveys asked what people would do with a computer. The number one answer back in the late 1970’s was “store and share recipes”. The situation now is different, but not unlike providing recipe books and cooking utensils and appliances to starving people, as a cure for hunger, the lack of a clear virtual learning policy with concise goals and objectives may be the root cause of the expressed concern about lack of training opportunities on integrating the devices into lesson plans. 38 years ago, our senior class gift was a first edition IBM PC with a sticky note attached for the principal that said, “please notify the school board that we are in hopes that every school in the district, every classroom, and every student will be provided one very soon”. Last year the district spent $0 (zero dollars) on virtual education. State Board of Education policy makes it illegal for any district to incorporate virtual learning curriculum without their approval, however virtual learning participants are counted as 1.5 students for budget proposals! The lack of clear, concise policy prescription for virtual education goes beyond the current budget. Virtual learning expands classroom instruction by extending to home and hospital bound, smoothing barriers for English learners while bridging the gaps in Common Core. Virtual models help hedge teacher-student ratios, which directly affects their ability to provide individualized attention to each student. Virtual models extend into family engagement, beyond brick and mortar, tradition academic calendars, and language barriers. By utilizing virtual learning models, students are exposed to media content relative to the teacher’s plan, by engaging in moderated discussion threads through peering with substantive posts, and students can research for information through an electronic library; while completing and submitting written and oral assignments.

So, as I see it, the 1:1 initiative is a symptom of lack of rational vision that virtual learning can mend. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the same thing prevails in arguments about the vague directive in the state constitution that requires the state legislature to fund public education. Without concrete overarching goals and objectives, the entire educational paradigm is stuck. This lack of positive vision also influences conflict in reasonable legislative funding, meaningful state board of education collaboration, and training for teachers with conventional tools, clear rules, strong leadership in and out of the classroom, and transformational educational leadership.

SM West area race

Craig Denny (incumbent)

Denny3002In my opinion, the one-to-one initiative has been generally successful. In hindsight, knowing what we know now, more training sooner and wider bandwidth could have made the rollout smoother. I particularly like the aspect of the “flipped classroom” made possible by technology. As we continue to incorporate technology, I think we need to make changes necessary to adapt to our curriculum.




Laura Guy

Laura_GuyI have spoken with teachers who said that the training was minimal and that they didn’t feel well-prepared to integrate the devices into their teaching. I have also heard from parents who are concerned that their child will spend hours a day looking at a screen. They are concerned about the potential cost to them of replacing an iPad if it breaks, and they wish they could choose to opt out of the program if they desired. Additionally, I’ve heard some parents complain that students in the upper grades spend some of their time using their devices for entertainment and not education. This does not sound like it’s been a success so far. I applaud the effort to make sure that all of our students, regardless of their home income and resources, have access to current technology and are learning how to use it. We want our graduates to be competitive with graduates from schools all over the country, and tech skills will be a huge part of their readiness for college and careers. But there are many potential downsides to using technology that a school district must consider, too. My husband is the I.T. Director at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and a big part of his job is keeping their 360 computers secure and operational. He is aware of how many things can go wrong with security and privacy issues so we need to make sure we have adequate resources to keep up with technology and security demands. We will also have to pay to replace all the devices within several years, and I don’t know if that money has been allocated. I am also concerned about kids having too much screen time and not enough face-to-face interaction with people. Social development is a crucial part of a child’s education, and I would want to ensure that the student/teacher relationship remains the primary teaching medium. I would continue all of these conversations and make appropriate changes as necessary.

Christopher White

White_300Calling the “one-to-one” initiative a success or not, is be a bit subjective. I do feel it is important to integrate current technologies into the classroom and the curriculum and this was one way. There are many methods to do this at every grade and every ability level. It was a great idea to introduce the initiative and it has provided access to educational technology to every child in the district. If our children are to be successful in life and be able to part of and contribute to our communities, they need to learn to use and manipulate current and future technologies.

There have been some shortcomings with the program’s initial rollout. Training teachers in integrating technology into daily curriculum and their required activities may not have been adequate for many of the district’s staff. I would like to see additional support for educating teacher on how to best use and integrate the latest and greatest electronic mediums.

I have some concerns on how the “one-to-one” initiative was financed. I believe the lease contract for the Mac Books and iPads was initially for 5 years, but the units are now to be replaced after 3 years with additional funds being required for the replacements.

Maintenance and repair of the units and the financial requirements (insurance policies) for the parents may not have been worked out as well as it could have been.

This was a very important and high profile project implemented by the District and it has had some great successes. As with many initial rollouts, there will always be room for improvement. I think the District will address this as they proceed with the implementation of the initiative.

SM East area race

Mary Sinclair

Mary_300College and career readiness in today’s society requires familiarity with technology. The opportunity for all students to develop competencies demanded by our highly technological society, regardless of family income, is being initiated in public schools across the country. Research tells us that the greatest challenge in this transition has been its effective integration into the process of teaching and learning.

The Shawnee Mission one-to-one technology initiative has been met with a familiar set of mixed results. From my perspective as a parent and MVP mentor at one of the district’s title elementary schools, a number of successful attributes can be associated with the initiative. A set of more commonly identified concerns have also compromised the initial implementation. The district’s capacity and willingness to address concerns and secure adequate technical assistance for teachers and students will be critical. I would recommend a thorough evaluation of the initiative.

Some initial successes:

  • The opportunity for all our students to gain familiarity with technology.
  • The reaction of parents watching video of their young child with a disability learn new words or make a friend in school.
  • The capacity for teachers to make use of the most current versions of online textbooks.
  • Many students also find the use of technology to be more engaging, particularly when the content is presented within an interactive format.

Some initial challenges:

  • Insufficient professional development provided to teachers in preparation for the transition.
  • Student headaches from too much screen time or increased hyperactivity due to over-stimulation.
  • No clear opt-out alternative.
  • Stress over replacement costs.
  • Frustrations over time lost due to technology glitches.
  • Extra prep time demands on teachers to make back up lesson plans if technology fails.

Results from a comprehensive evaluation could be used by the district to prioritize those adjustments with the greatest potential for improved implementation of the one-to-one technology initiative. I would not be surprised to see among the recommendations for change an increase in timely access to technical assistance, targeted professional development, hardware improvements in connectivity and the restoration of prep time to provide teachers with the opportunity to integrate technology into instruction.

James Lockard


First, those concerns of teachers and parents are valid and justified. That said, for most of our students, it has been a partial success. In many ways, it has made instruction more relevant, efficient and interesting. However, for our most easily distracted students, it has been largely a failure. For them, playing online games and watching Netflix has proved too great a temptation. Better filtering software and more guidelines on classroom management could minimize this issue, but follow-up training for teachers has been minimal.

What needs to change? First, more training and support for integrating instructional technology.
Second, the classroom display technologies (Apple’s Airplay) have never worked well. They need to be improved or replaced. Most rooms are working with 10-year-old projectors.

Third, the district should openly discuss our commitment to Apple computers. Is buying MacBooks instead of Google Chromebooks for secondary students a wise use of resources? If you can get 90% of the instructional value for 50% of the price, I believe we owe it to the taxpayers to at least discuss it. To be clear, I am not advocating a change, only that we open a discussion.

Tomorrow we’ll be running the candidates’ responses to item number five:

5.) If you are elected to the school board, what will your top priorities be?

About the author

Jay Senter
Jay Senter

Jay Senter is the founder and publisher of the Post.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked as a reporter and editor at The Badger Herald.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where he earned the Calder Pickett Award. While he was in graduate school, he also worked as a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.