Paul school seeks Plan B for iPad funding

When 11 Idaho schools received a share of $3 million in state technology grants Monday, one school was conspicuously absent from the list.

Paul Elementary School began using iPads in kindergarten through fifth-grade classes in November, through a privately funded pilot program. But the rural school failed to make the state’s cut — joining 69 other schools that did not receive technology grants.

Paul first graders II
A first-grade class in Paul Elementary School.

On Tuesday, principal Colleen Johnson said she was disappointed with the news, but said she is weighing options for the school and its 465 students.

“I’m determined to do something, because it would be a shame to move backwards,” she told Idaho Education News.

Johnson said she hopes to meet next week with Sandra Miller, the Minidoka County Joint School District’s newly named interim superintendent. School and district officials also haven’t had a chance to talk to iSchool, the Park City, Utah company that funded the first year of the three-year iPad pilot project with $244,000 in grants.

“We’ll have a plan probably in a couple weeks,” Johnson said.

But over the past few weeks, Paul Elementary’s focus has been on writing a state grant proposal. Schools across the state had only a few weeks to submit proposals by the state’s June 14 deadline.

Paul Elementary sought a $375,889.66 grant to cover the second and third years of the iPad program. This would have made for a relatively large state award — eight of the 11 grants awarded Monday were for less. But Paul said its iPad program had a commitment of $305,894.83 in matching funds, reducing the state’s cost.

Paul’s grant application does not identify the source of the matching funds.

As the 2013 Legislature debated technology funding — and the $3 million in pilot grants that became a piece of a $1.3 billion K-12 budget — Paul Elementary was at the center of the debate. Some lawmakers suggested the pilot program was a roundabout method of funding Paul’s iPad program, orchestrated by Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chairman who represents Paul.

Meanwhile, the first year iPad pilot program yielded some results in the classroom, and staff buy-in.

The school — which received four stars on the state’s new five-star rating system, based in part on Idaho Standards Achievement Test scores —  saw some improvements in the spring 2013 ISATs, Johnson said. But it was not a “marked” improvement, she said, as the school is moving toward the state’s new Idaho Core Standards, and assessments that focus on writing and critical thinking.

Paul’s grant application included results of a survey of school staff. In it, 90 percent of staffers said the tablets have led to increased student engagement and enhanced learning.