At Manhattan Beach Middle School this fall, the iPad will be as ubiquitous as the old-fashioned spiral notebook.
That's because the school is the first in the South Bay - and the latest among a small but growing group of schools statewide - to adopt a one-iPad-per-student model.
Administrators and some teachers tout the one-to-one model as a bold leap into the future - one that embraces a more interactive approach to learning, as well as takes a step toward eliminating the need for paper and possibly even backpacks.
But the leader of the teachers union is not nearly as enthusiastic, saying the district is pouring a lot of money into a fad, when teachers haven't received a raise in years. And a teacher survey indicates teachers are divided on the program.
For better or worse, the move is expected to significantly change the middle school experience for students. For instance, although the iPad won't replace all textbooks anytime soon, it will immediately lighten the backpack load, as students will use it to read novels such as "Tom Sawyer" and "The Giver."
"Eventually we want to get to the point where all the books are on the iPad," said district spokeswoman Carolyn Seaton. "It's a game changer."
Also beginning next year, students and teachers will use a program called eBackpack, which allows them to share files online. This means, for instance, that teachers can post worksheets online instead of printing them out and distributing them in class.
But the expansion of the district's iPad pilot to include all students at the middle school - as well as all fifth-graders at each of the five elementary schools - comes at a testy time between the union and administration.
The two sides are at loggerheads over salary. Although the teachers have not received a raise in about five years, the district this week offered teachers a one-time 3 percent bump. The union rejected it on the grounds that the administrators are receiving a 3 percent raise for each of three years.
Teachers union President Karl Kurz believes the iPad program adds insult to injury.
"They are prioritizing supplies rather than the teachers themselves, who really make the difference," he said. "Will the iPad call the parents when something is wrong? Will the iPad grade papers?" He added: "For the cost of it, I just don't see that much of a benefit."
A survey taken by the district has indicated that about 23 percent of the middle school teachers are fully on board. Another 20 percent indicated they would not use one in the classroom.
Administrators counter that the more than $400,000 price tag of expanding the program will not take a single cent from the general fund, but instead will come from grants and donations.
The middle school last year had about one machine for every 10 students, although all the students used them because the iPads were concentrated in the science wing. The district plans to purchase 300 more. The district expects about 1,000 students - or 75 percent of the school's pupils - to bring their own, based on surveys taken by parents.
Administrators also reject the idea that the iPad program is a passing fad.
Karina Gerger, a teacher who is working on special assignment to help modernize the district's curriculum, says iPads are even more education-friendly than laptops. While laptops take three minutes to boot up, iPads take just 10 seconds, for instance. And iPads are more portable.
"Technology changes, but we believe this will be around for a while," she said.
While it is certainly rare for a school to adopt a one-iPad- per-student approach, it is increasingly common. Of the 95,000 public schools nationwide, about 1,000 have adopted one-to-one programs, said an Apple rep who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to be quoted in the press.
At Manhattan Beach Middle School, the 300 new iPads will be covered by a $215,000 grant from Chevron, which regularly donates money to schools for the purpose of enhancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction. (The widely used acronym for this area of study is STEM.) That money will also purchase some tech support and teacher training.
Another $180,000 will come from the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, a powerful private fundraising arm whose donations make up roughly 10 percent of the district's entire budget.
That contribution will cover the cost for two more teachers on assignment - at $90,000 each - who will help implement the program.
The final $15,000 will come from a federal grant for improving teacher quality.
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