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updated: 8/15/2013 2:16 PM

U-46 teachers to get new laptops

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As Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers get their classrooms in order ahead of students' return next week, most also will be logging into new laptops.

The district purchased 3,000 laptops for this school year; 2,200 of them are for all certified teachers.

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Teachers had been working on 7-year-old computers, none of which could be upgraded to Windows 7. According to the district's IT department, Microsoft will drop support for those computers in April 2014, which would have put the district at risk.

School board members approved the $1.3 million purchase in May. They also approved spending $475,200 on 800 laptops for student use.

U-46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders said the district has about 6,000 computers that are more than seven years old.

"We need to replace all 6,000 of these computers by next summer, using a phased approach," Sanders said. Teacher computers got the upgrade this summer with the rest of the old student computers expected to be replaced next summer.

The tech purchases for the 2013-14 school year also included 281 mobile computers for Career and Tech Education classes, 12 new SMART interactive whiteboards and projectors for middle and high school math classrooms and 640 desktop computers for student use, according to board documents.

Teachers started picking up their laptops Thursday.

Kathy Castle, Elgin Teachers Association president, said the old equipment was becoming an issue for teachers, but she expects new problems to arise with the laptops.

"Some of those desktops were connected to SMART Board equipment," Castle said. "In a wireless building, that might work, but in a non-wireless building, that means taking the laptop into the classroom every day and hardwiring it."

Some high school teachers travel to multiple classrooms in a single day and will have to navigate setup in each room. If there isn't a secure place to lock up the laptop in a classroom, teachers will have to carry it around with them, even if they don't need it for every single course.

Castle said teachers weren't consulted about the technology purchases. Many will be glad to have newer machines but Castle said the one-size-fits all approach with laptops for everyone may not have been the best solution.

Craig Williams, the director of information services, said the laptops were slightly cheaper than comparable desktops and the district chose them for the flexibility it will give teachers to bring their teaching and learning resources with them.

"We think this is the beginning of a more mobile, more flexible learning environment for the district," Williams said. "We wanted the teachers to have experience with it first as we continue planning to introduce more technology for the students."

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