“We were a little concerned about the initial rollout, all at one time,” said Khristie Goodwin, coordinator of curriculum and special education for Oxford City Schools, at Tuesday's school board meeting.
Those worries were largely for naught, she explained, as teachers, students and parents all seem to be adapting to the new technology.
Oxford schools this month issued more than 1,100 new MacBook laptops to students in grades seven through 12. Seventh- and eighth-graders only use the laptops at school, however. The long nights teachers and administrators spent preparing for the school year were all worth it, explained Goodwin, thanks to a boost in student engagement.
“You can’t help but to feel the energy that the kids have,” said Goodwin. “It seems like that this has given them a little pick-me-up, and they’re excited about carrying those computers around and working on them in class.”
Goodwin held training sessions last week to teach parents and students how to use and care for the laptops. Parents also learned about electronic textbooks, how teachers will blend the use of computers with their daily instruction and how to use the district's new learning management software, Goodwin said.
Eric Burrage, director of Oxford’s school operations, said workers in the district’s six-person technology department, which maintains the laptops and technology infrastructure, monitored the process of handing out all those computers, and they reported few problems.
Parents seem enthused about the program as well, said Oxford schools’ student service coordinator Roy Bennett.
Bennett said they seem to be “looking forward to the fact that the world truly is changing educationally. The way we do things are changing educationally, and the world that their children are going to grow up in has changed so drastically from the world that they grew up in.”
Despite spending about $700,000 annually for four years on the laptops, Oxford schools ended July with $8.8 million, more than three months operating reserve, in the general fund, said Robbie Jordan, the school system’s chief financial officer.
The district has about $1 million less in revenue than was expected, but the city has yet to collect sales tax money from October and November, which will bridge that gap, Jordan explained.
The school system is also spending about $1.2 million less than predicted, but expenses will likely increase as the school year gets underway, he said.
“Looking at the budget, I think we’re right where we need to be this year,” Jordan said.
That budget surplus also means that the school system doesn’t have to do without when it comes to hiring teachers. The district will be paying for about $2.8 million in locally funded teachers this year, said Oxford schools Superintendent Jeff Goodwin.
“That is something that I’m excited to report,” Goodwin said. “And I appreciate the fact that this board sees the need to invest in those classrooms.”
Results from parent surveys sent out each year reflect their desire for smaller class sizes, Goodwin said.
That money pays for extra teachers – about 48 of them – which help keep class sizes small and class offerings abundant, Goodwin explained, from “advanced classes all the way down to intervention. The whole gamut.”
An Oxford school board meeting to discuss the district’s 2013-14 budget will take place Sept. 11 at 7 .a.m. at the district office. The next regular board meeting will be Sept.17 at 7 a.m. at the district office.
In other business, the board:
• Approved revisions to the district’s Responsible and Acceptable use Practices for Technology and Web Publishing policy.
• Tabled until the next meeting revisions to the district’s Career Technical Education Advisory Council Committee policy.
• Reviewed the district's compliance reporting policies regarding the school system’s career tech program.
• Approved a travel request to Berry College for the Oxford High School cross country team.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.