WB Foundation grant leads to $800K for school computers 

More tablets, laptops and servers to be purchased for Sea to Sky students

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COMPUTERS IN CLASS A $300,000 donation from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation is being leveraged into an $800,000 computer upgrade fund.

A long term donation commitment means the Sea to Sky School District's information technology (IT) budget has been bumped up to version 2.0.

The Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation has committed $300,000 over four years to School District 48 to support the district's technology objectives. According to Mei McCurdy of the foundation, a similar program ended in 2010.

The money for the ongoing donation will be generated through the sales of Founder Passes, the much-desired transferable ski passes sold in limited quantities each year by the foundation. McCurdy said some people have waited five years on the Founder Pass waiting list to purchase one of the passes, which sell for $5,800.

Peter Jory, the school district's new director of instruction focused on technology and innovation, said the commitment from the WB Foundation has been leveraged into a grant valued at $800,000.

"The agreement is that it is all to be spent on infrastructure," said Jory, who started in his position with the school district in August. "This can include equipment and software but not training or installation. The money will be matched by the schools receiving a share of the funding."

Jory said the school district currently has more than 1,465 computers of various ages. The vast majority, 96 per cent, are PC machines running Microsoft operating systems.

Jory said the school district's IT department doesn't support the Apple machines in the district so if the Apple computers act up the users have to solve the issues without the help of the school district's experts.

Jory also said the school district has 35 so-called Smart Boards, digital interactive whiteboards that are replacing chalk boards in classrooms.

One of the challenges around using Smart Boards is the amount of teacher training required before the board can be used as an effective teaching tool. Jory said the level of training teachers have on the use of the board varies.

"The best thing about Smart Boards, aside from their ability to engage learners, is the way that they encourage teachers to learn about technology and continue to work with others in regard to their practice," said Jory. "They can be a real spark."

The money generated through the donation from the WB Foundation will help all the schools in the district increase their inventories of high tech teaching tools.

"We are quite mindful right now of trying to move from a desktop experience in separate classrooms to something that is a little bit more mobile, meaning having more laptops and tablets available to students and maybe being a little more flexible with our learning environments around computers," said Jory. He said there would be more computers going into the classroom instead of the students moving to computer labs to use the newest technology in their learning.

At this point only three schools in the district don't have wireless Internet service and Jory said those schools will soon have that service.

A technology committee has been set up and that group will work with the schools in the district to fulfill its technology needs, use group procurement to meet the district's needs, get the greatest value for the dollars spent, and maintain a level of standardization to keep maintenance of the machines efficient.

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