Filed most appropriately under “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” is the story of the Kettle Moraine School District and how it managed to come a whisker away from achieving complete 1:1 status under the severe budget constraints of a small rural district. Located in Wales, Wis., between Madison and Milwaukee, the district serves a little over 4,000 students. Though Wales might be a little village, Kettle Moraine has some administrators who hatched a big idea.
New to the district and confronted with the challenge of getting devices into the hands of Kettle Moraine students, Bob Boyd, the district’s director of technology, began analyzing exactly what it would take to roll out a 1:1 program, a laptop in the hands of every student. “It was obvious that the only way I could make it work, would be if the costs were somehow cut in half," he says. This is the conclusion that school district administrators across the country come to on a daily basis, but Boyd had a solution: the Kettle Moraine Technology Partnership Program (TPP).
Under the TPP, each student’s family shares the cost of the cost of his/her laptop with the district — a modest $55 per year — over the course of three years. The fee is paid annually during the August registration process and, at the end of three years, the family owns the computer. The fee covers insurance and maintenance on the device for three years, along with a protective cover. In one inventive masterstroke, Boyd managed to accomplish what most administrators can only dream of. He cut his costs in half.
“We were in a situation where we simply could not afford to provide laptops or devices to students,” says Kettle Moraine Superintendent Pat Deklotz. “There was an urgent need for them to help us meet the educational requirements we were trying to meet. We needed these tools and technology to get there, so when Bob brought his idea forward, we acted quickly.”
The rollout wasn’t instant. A considerable amount of groundwork was necessary. Holly Myhre, the director of Digital Learning, assisted in designing the parameters for parent and student education, implementation, maintenance and success. Several parent meetings were held well in advance.
In addition to the financial dexterity the TPP has afforded the district, there have been some unexpected benefits realized through the program. With a financial stake in the devices, the families became an engaged partner with the district in ensuring the students’ proper care of the units. “I think another important benefit the program has provided us,” Deklotz reveals, “is a really clear channel for us to talk to parents about digital literacy that goes well beyond the classroom, how they monitor their students’ use of a device and what content they might be accessing outside of school.” It’s such a vital conversation that the district might never have been able to have with the parents if it weren’t for this opportunity.
Over the course of the five years since the inception of the program, it has evolved in various ways. New features are added and procedures change. For example, after building the cost of carrying cases into the fee schedule, the district learned almost immediately that the cases were unnecessary for high school students, who were at the point in their education at which they already had a chosen method of carrying their school gear.
The schools were also able to develop maintenance teams for units requiring simple fixes. Composed exclusively of students, the teams can acquire some practical knowledge and experience in the art of computer maintenance as early as middle school. One aspect that hasn’t changed is the district’s use of the free and reduced lunch program to help them identify families who might need a fee waiver, a policy that Deklotz assures will continue for the life of the program.
To be sure, the TPP rollout was not as simple as it may seem. It remains a product of dedicated management. Deklotz, Boyd and Myhre have each learned important lessons along the way in making the venture operate smoothly. But the key to this successful program seems to be a group of administrators who were able to recognize a winning idea when they saw it, and resourceful enough to develop and implement required adjustments deftly and effectively.