Chadron Public Schools have yet to see the cost savings in textbook purchases that was expected from providing iPad tablet computers to all of its high school students.
In discussion of the district’s financial position at Monday’s school board meeting, Chadron High School principal Jerry Mack told board members that costs for textbooks haven’t gone down, even though the books themselves may not be used by students, because of publishers’ pricing strategies. “Publishers demand that you purchase the hard copy before you get the digital version,” said Mack.
“For some texts, in order to get the digital copy, they require you to get the key first,” added technology director Uati Paopao.
“The publishers keep holding us up,” said Mack, who added that school’s move to reduce reliance on textbooks in favor of digital materials will continue through the use of freely available materials in courses that are put together by teachers.”We think in the future it will be more (savings),” he said.
Meanwhile, dealing with publishers on items like social studies text books assures that the district is meeting state standards in its courses, Mack said. “We feel we are meeting the criteria of the state by dealing through publishers.”
The district’s shift to online and digital materials also figured in a later discussion of changes to the student handbook, a document provided to students and parents each year that contains detailed information about school policies, fees and schedules. Previously distributed in paper copies, the district has begun providing the handbook in digital format, with an option for a printed version by request.
Last year only a handful of students/parents asked for the hard copy, Paopao said. The largest number of requests, about 12, came from Middle School, with just three requests from the High School and about five from the lower grades, he said.
The district is working on its web site in part to improve access to the handbook, noted Paopao. “We are redrafting the home page to make some changes and make file sizes smaller so it’s easier to download, especially on mobile devices,” he said. “The handbook itself is rather large. We are trying to constrain it.”
There are also plans to improve the ability to search the handbook for specific topics, said Paopao. “We are trying to hyperlink, instead of using the table of contents,” he said, adding that searches can be done now from within a user’s internet browser when the document is open.
Because there are changes to the handbook every year, making it a digital document has been a big improvement, noted Mack.
But parents won’t have a way to tell what has been changed from previous years, said school patron Andy Spencer. “As a parent, it would be helpful to see (the changes),” he said.
That can be done by creating links to previous versions in the table of contents of the online version, said Paopao.
The changes to the handbook for the coming school year, which include sections on admission requirements, breakfast and lunch programs, notice of data redisclosure, iPad acceptable use and the monitored open campus at the Middle School, won unanimous approval from the board. There were fewer changes this year than in the past, noted Mack.
Board action at the meeting also included approval of changes to policies on bullying, student fees, and parental involvement. Spencer also raised questions about the parental involvement policy, in regard to the ability to review curriculum materials, particularly if the material is in digital format, which can readily be changed, rather than a printed text.
Text books are just part of the curriculum package, school administrators responded. “A text book is not a curriculum,” said Superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester. “Whether it’s digital or hand copy, teachers are bringing in outside material all the time.”
“A text book is just a guideline…you have supplemental resources,” agreed Mack, who said the most common questions about curriculum arise in respect to health education classes.
Contacting the teacher directly is the best way to learn what is taught in a course, said Mack. “You can ask the teacher,” he said.
And digital course materials aren’t changed in mid-year said Paopao. “When they issue a text book, they declare the lifespan,” he said.
In other business, the board:
•approved contracts with Fisher Roofing for repairs to the roof of the High School and Middle School;
•learned from Winchester that the district’s cash reserves will likely be about the same this year as last, despite efforts to increase the reserve amounts. While the district has been successful in cutting expenses, revenues are down as well, she said.