School board invests $1.03 million in technology upgrades

Published 8:47 pm Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Beaufort County Schools Board of Education gave the school system clearance Tuesday to spend approximately $1.03 million on classroom technology upgrades.

The district is purchasing new TVs and add-ons that will be used for classroom instruction. Those include 78 82-inch TVs as well as 75 Apple TV devices to be used by grades K-1. Those grade levels are using the Apple TV setups because the students and teachers are already equipped with other Apple devices. The school system is also purchasing 372 85-inch non-touch Newline displays to be used by grades 2-12. With accessory and installation fees and taxes included, the combined cost of the K-1 setups is $197,508.68. The combined cost of the 2-12 setups is $832,692.02.

The school board already had appropriated approximately $1.1 million to address teachers’ technological needs. Of that money, approximately $700,000 has already been spent on technology upgrades. The remaining money can be used to pay for part of the bill for the new TVs, and the district will look to appropriate COVID-19 relief funds  to help cover the remaining cost.

An Apple TV box can connect to a standard TV and provide access to applications and online features. Those applications include Classroom, a platform through which teachers can present lesson materials, facilitate document sharing and monitor and control students’ iPad activity as needed.  A newline display is essentially a TV with a built-in computer that has capabilities similar to that of an Apple TV setup.

Members of the district’s technology committee presented the technology requests to the school board. The teachers who presented said the updated technology was much needed. They said the new devices would create new possibilities for lessons and classroom management while also eliminating the need for outdated projectors, smart boards and other products.

The teachers said the new devices would help with instruction and classroom management. Using laptops and tablets, students will be able to share their screens on their main classroom TV. The TVs can essentially serve as whiteboards and presentation modules that can be modified through those devices, meaning teachers won’t be anchored to the front of the classroom during lessons.

Erin Tyson, a fifth-grade teacher at John Small Elementary School and a pilot user of the Newline display, demonstrated various uses of the device to the school board. She said her colleagues were impressed by the visual clarity and functionality of the display.

“The clarity of it is much better than the smart boards we’re using right now — they’re outdated,” Tyson said. “A lot of them don’t work. With the projectors you have to worry about projector bulbs going out and finding funds for that.”

Tyson said her students’ engagement level was “out of the roof” with the Newline display in use. She said student liked showing off and discussing their projects on the classroom’s TV.

Jennifer Walker, a kindergarten teacher at Eastern Elementary School, has been a pilot user of the Apple TV system. She said the switch to Apple TV has been “life-changing.”

“I do understand that when you’re looking at the prices, the Apple TV is a little bit more,” Walker said. “But I’m looking big-picture, and I think this is actually what is best for our kids. It is worth the money.

“It’s 2021, and (the current equipment) needs to be updated,” she added. “And with the whole virtual year, it opened our eyes to our need to step it up.”

There are some differences between the Newline and Apple TV sets. For example, multiple students can cast their screens onto the Newline setup at the same time. On the Apple TV setup, only one student can cast at a time.

“I’m OK with that — I don’t need all my kindergartners up there,” Walker said.