The foundation has offered $100,000 for career technology equipment and $300,000 for computer equipment. The initiatives will put students on a level playing field so they can compete for jobs and admission to college, said Bruce Jameson, vice chairman of PEFA’s board.
Edward Sturkie, Anniston’s career technology coordinator, said the new equipment will improve student safety and help them compete outside of the classroom.
The new equipment, he said, will enable instructors to prepare students to earn national welding certifications that will give students a leg up in the job market. “With that credential, they can walk out of high school and get a job virtually anywhere in welding,” he said.
A simulator for the law and public safety career-tech cluster, he said, will help students test their skill at state competitions, something they were not able to do this year for lack of training.
The other part of the initiative, said Superintendent of Education Joan Frazier, includes such items as digital projectors, interactive whiteboards and remote keypads that allow instant assessment of students.
Frazier said the schools began buying computer equipment for the initiative about three years ago, with a major push two years ago.
In addition to projectors and smart whiteboards in many Anniston classrooms, all technology staff and administrators have tablet computers, and 160 more will be distributed to all teachers in August.
The plan is to eventually give such technology to every student, often called a one-to-one initiative — something Frazier said is still a year or two down the road for Anniston.
School systems across the county are launching similar programs at different rates. Piedmont City Schools is a few years into a one-to-one program, and Jacksonville will be rolling out a program this fall. Calhoun County Schools, while not distributing devices to students, is encouraging students to bring their own computers, tablets and smartphones to school.
“I don’t want people to think we’re in a competition with those other schools,” Jameson said of the initiatives PEFA is supporting. “Our students are in competition with other students for space in classrooms in colleges ... It’s really a world competition, not a local competition.”
Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the American Association of School Boards, said about a third of the school districts in the country have significant one-to-one initiatives in place, meaning they provide devices such as laptops or tablets to all students or students in certain grade levels.
“There’s a big continuum out there,” she said of technology implementation. “Many districts are starting out on the journey.”
Frazier said Anniston has a lot of work to do to train teachers and add infrastructure so students get the most benefit from classroom technology.
“Technology alone won’t make the difference,” Flynn said. “It’s essential the instructional style, strategies also change to capitalize on that technological investment.”
As for the infrastructure, Anniston officials are hoping to win a federal grant to fund more Internet bandwidth and new servers and routers to handle more users. The federal grant program helps schools and libraries in high-poverty areas like Anniston extend technology infrastructure and access.
In low-income communities, Flynn said, it “probably means a district initiative to help level that playing field is even more important.”
In Jacksonville, said Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell, officials have been preparing for the transition since 2011. Beginning last summer, the district gave teachers laptop and tablet computers and began offering extensive training on how to effectively implement the tools into their curricula.
Frazier said PEFA’s grant agreements are on tonight’s Board of Education agenda as an action item. PEFA and the district are trying to get the initiative funded by June 30, she said, in order to make sure everything can be ordered and in place in time for the start of school in August.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.