Should parent groups be allowed to purchase technology for their school?

I was recently asked by another school district…

Are parent groups allowed to purchase technology for their schools? What guidance do you give your parent groups? 

Answer:  Yes, parent groups in West Des Moines Community Schools are allowed to purchase certain types of technology for their school.  There are three specific technologies they can not buy, but there are plenty of other options that are permitted. 

What three items  are they not allowed to buy and why not?
1) Desktop computers
2) Laptop computers
3) Printers:

Why not?  Our district strives to keep these items standardized to reduce costs as well as equity concerns between schools. In addition, each of these types of items has on-going, annual licensing costs for such things like software and antivirus.  The on-going cost of printing is bit more obvious.

What items are they allowed to purchase?
We’re pretty flexible with parents regarding what they want to purchase as long as…. a) there isn’t a district standard already in place  b) there is a plan in place for how the item will be supported  and c) a plan for training and expectations.  Here are the most popular items…

1)  Online parent teacher conference tools/services
On-line, annual subscription services that provide electronic calendaring for parent-teacher conferences.

2) iPad or  iTouch
The district is running several pilots with iPads, but has not yet standardized where iPads classroom placement of iPads, so we’re allowing schools and parent groups to also conduct testing in various grades and content areas.

3) iTunes cards
We encourage parent groups to either purchase smaller iTunes cards ($10) or make a contribution towards the schools volume purchasing account.

4) Wireless airslates, student response systems, etc.
Occassionally these items are requested by individual teachers, teams or grade levels, and since they aren’t part of the district classroom standard, we allow schools and parent groups to pursue these options.

5) Portable or fixed PA (Public Address) systems for large school events.
Again, we do not have a standard for these types of systems and since some schools desire them more than others, we allow them to purchase what is needed.

Does your district technology team meet frequently with school parent groups?
We meet with several different parent groups multiple times each year.  Our district has a committee called School Community Network (SCN) which has representatives from the parent groups at all 14 schools.  We typically meet with SCN at least once a year to discuss district projects and what’s new on the list for recommended purchase list. In addition, we meet with individuals from parents groups as well as provide talks and guidance to entire school parent groups on request.

So what you really mean is that you meet with them in person and “manipulate” them to buy the right things, correct? (I was really asked this question!!!)
No… not manipulate, but instead we find that it’s better to encourage parent groups and schools to focus on what they can do to help.

What other advice do you give parent groups looking to purchase technology?

1. Put technology in a classroom, not for general “checkout”.
When you’re investing in new technology, it might seem fair to place it in the library as a checkout item, so it’s available to everyone. In my opinion this leads to…. no one owning it, no one caring for it, and no expectation that it really be used. Place it in a classroom and if it is successful, news will spread and others will want it.

2. Place one of anything in a classroom – and its likely to become a teacher tool.
In general, whether you place one computer, one laptop or one iPad in a classroom, chances are that it will predominately be used a teacher tool. Yes there are some exceptions, but in general how you deploy the technology will influence how it will be used.

3. Visit other schools
Many times, I hear school groups say “Building X is doing this, which we want to do.” My next question is always, “Have you been to visit building X?” The goal of any project should not be about “being” like someone else, as this is a sign that you aren’t really sure about your goal. Instead, we encourage parent groups to visit the other school, find out what is really happening.

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