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TMCNet:  Guilford school officials pleased with latest tablets [News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. :: ]

[June 11, 2014]

Guilford school officials pleased with latest tablets [News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. :: ]

(News & Record (Greensboro, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 11--Screens broke on nine of the tablet computers that roughly 300 middle school students tested last month.

There were some software glitches and problems with the onscreen keyboard.

But overall, district officials say the pilot with the tablets went well.

"It was so much better than last year," Denise Richmond, principal at Jamestown Middle School, told the Guilford County Board of Education Tuesday as officials discussed plans to roll out tablets next fall to all the district's middle schools.

There were fewer technical issues with the new devices during the three-week pilot, Richmond said.

But the devices used in the pilot are not the same tablets students will use this fall. The tested devices also did not include the more break-resistant glass expected to be installed in the tablets students will take home this fall.

Board member Darlene Garrett said she is disappointed that the pilot didn't involve the actual devices students will use this fall.

"To me, it's not a valid pilot program," she said.

On Wednesday, Guilford County Schools expects to get a shipment of customized teacher tablets from Amplify, the Brooklyn-based tablet vendor. These are the same tablets students will get in the fall.

Teachers will begin taking the devices home before leaving for the summer, said Jake Henry, who oversees the district's personalized learning initiative involving the tablets.

The school system and Amplify are regrouping after myriad problems with the tablets received last year led Superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green to suspend use of the devices.

Guilford leased the devices from Amplify with a portion of a $30 million federal Race to the Top grant.

Earlier this year, the two sides reached an agreement on replacing the fleet of faulty devices with new ones built by a different manufacturer.

Amplify partnered with Intel, the well-known computer processor manufacturer, for the new devices. The new tablets are built by Elitegroup Computer Systems, a lesser-known manufacturer based in Taiwan. Asus, also based in Taiwan, supplied the first round of Amplify tablets.

District officials hope to launch the new devices in all 24 middle schools this fall. The full distribution should be complete by November, Henry said.

Two of three principals whose schools participated in the spring pilot said students will need to get in-depth training on properly caring for the devices.

This fall, the district will also have a procedure requiring students or their parents to pay a fee if they repeatedly lose, break or damage a tablet.

Board member Deena Hayes-Greene asked what would be done to replace damaged accessories.

"I hope that we're not creating a financial hardship on families," she said about the costs of replacing items such as headphones and chargers, which can be easily damaged.

Henry said the district ordered chargers and students will be asked to leave their assigned chargers at home. There will be extra chargers at the participating schools.

Board Chairman Alan Duncan also asked Henry to address safety concerns with the new devices.

Josh Hartmann, chief technology officer for Amplify, assured the board the tablets meet the same safety standards as similar devices sold in the US. He said he could provide the board verification of the device's safety.

Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownNR on Twitter.

___ (c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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