District 56 candidates critical of iPad program

  • Upper from left, Paul Charleston, Jon Holmberg, Becky Kotsinis, and Tim Roegner and lower from left, Lynn Schroetter, Helen Scott, and Brian Weir are candidates for the Gurnee Elementary School District 56 board in the 2015 election.

    Upper from left, Paul Charleston, Jon Holmberg, Becky Kotsinis, and Tim Roegner and lower from left, Lynn Schroetter, Helen Scott, and Brian Weir are candidates for the Gurnee Elementary School District 56 board in the 2015 election.

 
 
Updated 2/11/2015 1:38 PM

Two candidates for the Gurnee Elementary School District 56 board have broken with the pack by criticizing a roughly three-year-old effort to issue iPads to all students.

Whereas most of the seven candidates glowed about the program, challenger Paul Charleston said "success is a strong word." He said the program isn't as effective as it could be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A second challenger, Jon Holmberg, also complained about the project. Holmberg said the district should train parents how to limit their kids' usage and ability to download apps.

He also doesn't like that parents have to pay an insurance deductible if an iPad is damaged.

Four seats with 4-year terms are on the April 7 ballot. In addition to Charleston and Holmberg, the candidates are: incumbents Becky Elliott-Kotsinis, Tim Roegner, Helen Scott and Brian Weir; and challenger Lynn Schroetter.

All of the candidates fielded questions from a representative of the Daily Herald's editorial board this week, either in person, on the phone or through email.

Every District 56 student -- from prekindergarten through eighth grade -- receives Apple iPads purchased with district funds. They can be used in class, at home or at any other location.

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The district was among the first in the region to launch such a project. Others have since followed.

The Daily Herald asked the candidates if the effort is going as well as expected or if there are concerns that should be addressed.

Scott was enthusiastic, saying administrators have overcome "a few bumps in the road" with the program.

"It's been a big success," she said.

Roegner also called the program successful, though he acknowledged some software-update glitches at the start of this school year.

"The rollout in previous years was a little smoother," he said. "We've been working with Apple ... so this doesn't happen again."

Weir called the initiative "an amazing journey" for the district. Although he cited minor technical issues, he said the effort has gone "amazingly well" so far.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Charleston wasn't as exuberant. Citing his own experience as a professional in the technology field, he said he believes the computers "need to be used better."

"I think it's a great idea, but it is a tool that needs to be used more effectively," Charleston said.

The tablets should be more than high-tech variations of textbooks, he said. They should be used to promote math and science learning, he said.

Right now, Charleston said, the iPads "are kind of a novel thing."

Holmberg said District 56 officials need to give parents apps to control how their kids use the tablets. He also wants the district to cover the insurance deductible if a student's iPad is damaged.

"The iPad program is mandatory for students, so the district should fund the insurance program," Holmberg said.

Even so, Holmberg called the iPad program "a cutting-edge step forward" when it comes to technology in the classroom.

Schroetter has four children in District 54 classes, and thus has four students with school-supplied iPads. She called the effort "a fantastic initiative for the students."

"It's a real change in how students learn," she said.

Schroetter voiced concern about what students will do when they move onto Warren Township High School, where students aren't part of a 1-to-1 program.

District 56 officials should work with Warren officials and encourage them to roll out a tablet initiative, she said.

Elliott-Kotsinis shared no complaints about the program. She said she'd like to see future students learn how to use the tablets to create apps instead of merely using them as electronic textbooks.

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