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City approves $2.4M initiative for students' tablet computers

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Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2011 11:04 pm | Updated: 2:06 pm, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

The Charlottesville School Board approved a $2.4 million contract Thursday to acquire 2,082 tablet computers in a move that puts the final steps in motion on the division’s much-anticipated BLAST initiative.

The contract with vendor PC Mall Gov will likely be signed today, said Dean Jadlowksi, the division’s director of technology, and the tablets will start arriving within three weeks.

Jadlowski also revealed the precise model that students will be using: the Fujitsu Stylistic. The base price for the model is $768, Jadlowski said, but the schools’ additional costs for services, software and implementation put the per-unit cost at $1,167.

Jadlowski said the model is one of “very few” that the industry offers that meet the division’s needs.

“We had some pretty rigorous specifications to endure a backpack and endure coming and going with students in school,” Jadlowski said. “The Fujitsu itself actually meets military specs… for ruggedness.”

BLAST, which stands for Blended Learning to Advance Student Thinking, aims to reduce reliance on printed textbooks and enhance the education experience by providing students in sixth grade and up with a Windows 7 tablet. Students at Charlottesville High School would be able to take their tablets home at night, while students at Buford Middle and Walker Upper Elementary would leave their tablets at school under a cart-based system.

The board approved the contract by a unanimous voice vote.

The division began crafting a request for proposal (RFP) for BLAST in the spring. The RFP was issued on May 27, and administrators have been working through the summer to finalize the details.

Two proposals were received in response to the RFP, according to a memo attached to the meeting agenda.

An eight-member committee — which included a parent, teachers and school administrators involved in finance, technology and curriculum — interviewed each provider and voted unanimously to recommend PC Mall, a California-based IT supplier. PC Mall Gov is a subsidiary that focuses on government, education and health care customers.

Delays in finalizing the contract will push back the program rollout schedule, Jadlowski said.

Administrators had planned on beginning deployment at CHS at the beginning of October, but Jadlowksi said Oct. 15 now looks like a more likely date. Deployment at Buford and Walker is expected to follow in November.

The division will host series of informational meetings to acquaint parents with the new technology in the coming weeks. CHS parents are required to attend one of two sessions that will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15 and 22 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center at CHS. Parents of students in grades 6-8 may attend either an Oct. 11 meeting at Walker Upper Elementary or a Nov. 9 meeting at Buford Middle School. Both of those meetings begin at 6 p.m., and are optional.

School Board ponders war and peace

Before the BLAST vote, the meeting took an unexpected turn when Member Ned Michie took issue with an International Day of Peace resolution. Michie fought a solo battle to alter the resolution's wording over concerns that the board could be signing off on anti-war sentiment.

The International Day of Peace, celebrated on Sept. 21, was established in 1981 by the United Nations, according to a history provided to the School Board by Bob McAdams, an organizer with Interfaith Cooperation Circle of Central Virginia, one of the groups planning local events to commemorate the occasion.

Michie said he wanted to know more about what would take place at the event before recommending it to students.

“I’m all in favor of peace and non-violence, but, for instance… to the extent that any of the events are really sort of anti-war events, I’m not necessarily comfortable with supporting that,” Michie said.

The resolution before the School Board read in part: “Be It Resolved, that the Charlottesville City School Board does support the International Day of Peace on the 21st day of September, 2011, and encourages our community join in the celebration of the International Day of Peace to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace and non-violence.”

Michie suggested removing the word “international” and adding “in our community” to the end of the resolution.

“I’m all in favor of world peace,” Michie said. “But I think we ought to concentrate on our community…”

Michie found no support for his suggestion on the board, and some members seemed surprised that he would raise questions about the resolution’s appropriateness.

“I see this as similar to something like Earth Day,” said Member Colette Blount. “Very generic.”

McAdams was asked to address the board and explain the meaning of the event.

“There’s not going to be any particular controversial statement in there,” McAdams said. He also paraphrased a quote from the original U.N. resolution on a button he was wearing: “Because wars begin in the heart of men, peace needs to begin in the heart of human beings also.”

McAdams said another local group is organizing a three-day conference on the “military industrial complex at 50 years old.”

“This is in no way being viewed as a criticism or critique of individuals and their families that are…fighting overseas,” Member Kathy Galvin said in an attempt to clarify.

Michie reiterated his feeling that the anti-war aspect was too controversial for the School Board to be getting into.

Interim member Guian McKee said didn’t see how endorsing peace is in any way a criticism of those serving in the military.

“I guess I’m just concerned that there's always going to be violence,” Michie said. “But how is violence met? How is genocide met?”

The six other board members eventually passed the resolution, while Michie abstained.