By John R. Schirmer
The Nashville School Board Monday night approved the purchase of 1,100 Chromebooks at a cost of $330,704 from White River Services and Solutions in Batesville. With the latest acquisition, the school district will be “a little better than 1-to-1” in providing computers to students, according to Superintendent Doug Graham.
The order will also include 1,100 Google Chrome OS management licenses at a cost of $26,950, and 1,000 carrying cases at a cost of $22,080.
Total cost of the computers, licenses, cases and sales tax is $415,894.35.
The devices will be paid for by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The Nashville district received $485,000 from CARES, Graham said. Remaining money from the grant likely will go toward personal protective equipment such as face masks for faculty, staff and students when school opens Aug. 13, according to Graham.
The district decided to “concentrate on technology” in spending most of the CARES money, Graham said. “We have to be prepared if we are sent home again. We want to be ready to teach those kids.”
Arkansas districts closed abruptly in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Education Commissioner Dr. Johnny Key told schools to be prepared for an August in-person opening but to be ready if the state orders another closure later because of Covid-19.
During the academic year, districts will offer blended instruction under state guidelines and will be ready to switch to virtual classes if necessary.
All Nashville students will have access to Chromebooks, Graham said.
The district also plans to “get families better equipped to help their kids online with computers,” including offering improved wi-fi in school parking lots if students are required to work from home.
“Our assumption is that we will be back to school Aug. 13,” Graham said. “Teachers will be better
equipped to handle technology” through summer professional development with the Chromebooks.
“We will require some type of instruction periodically on Google Classroom” as the academic year progresses, Graham said. “We’ll do ‘X’ amount of activities with students so that if we’re sent home again, we’ll be far ahead of the curve.”
The district “is going to assume that on Aug. 13, most of our students will be coming back to school like we have done for more than 100 years,” Graham said. “We’re not devising a system where students come some days and stay home others. We will have an online option for families who don’t feel safe” with their children in a traditional campus setting because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We think students learn more in class than in front of a computer. We’ll do what we believe Monday-Friday that’s best for kids. What we do on a daily basis is worth its weight in gold. We’re not going to try a schedule where some are at school and some at home” unless it’s required, Graham said.
For those students whose families choose the online option, “We will have a program. It will be monitored by the Nashville School District. Grades will come from the Nashville School District. Teaching will come from an online program,” Graham said. In addition, “I will tell home schoolers about the online program and see if they are interested.”
At the moment, the state is looking for in-person education to resume for the fall semester. “I hope we’re back in school Aug. 13. We have to be prepared both ways. We will take care of kids if they are quarantined for two weeks or out for sickness or injury” or another closing, Graham said.
Distribution of the new Chromebooks will vary from campus to campus, according to Graham.
At Nashville High School, “Starting Day 1 with registration, we will hand a new Chromebook to each student to bring every day. It’s time to get with the game and send a new Chromebook with every kid grades 10-12,” Graham said. Students will take the devices home and bring them back for class the next day.
At junior high, the school will “give them a Chromebook to take home and stay at the house. They will use another one at school every day. We’ll tell them to leave it in a place at home where they do their homework,” Graham said.
For students in grades 3-6, there will be a Chromebook on every desk, according to Graham.
Kindergarten, first and second grades will have classroom sets for students to use.
Board member Tem Gunter asked how students will charge the devices for class. Technology Director Bryce Petty said that if the computers are charged at home, “There shouldn’t be an issue of charging for one day. In general, if they are charged nightly, they should be fine” and last the entire day.
With the latest order of Chromebooks, the Nashville district will have spent about $2.5 million on technology, Graham said.
In other items from Monday’s meeting, the board approved building insurance through the Arkansas School Boards Association. The premium for 2020-21 will be about $78,650, with a $5,000 deductible. “That’s up $2,500 from last year. We had some big claims from the flood,” Graham said, including parking lots at Nashville Primary and Wilson Park. Graham said the policy offers good service for the district. “Any time we’ve had a claim, they’ve been Johnny on the spot.”
The board accepted bids on carpet at primary and summer painting at some locations in the district.
Carpet will be replaced in eight primary rooms, Graham said. The board accepted a bid of about $15,000 from Sherwin-Williams of Hope.
Other bids included $20,768.63 from D&S Carpet of Ashdown and $23,830 from Hinton Flooring of Ashdown.
Brian Brown Consulting, LLC, of Arkadelphia submitted a bid of $37,700 for summer painting on the four campuses. Board members accepted the bid.
Durae Ferguson Construction of Arkadelphia’s bid on the project was $49,000.
Minor revisions were accepted in student handbooks. Those will be listed in the June 24 News-Leader.
The board hired teachers for the district’s summer school program. They include the following:
Primary – Casey Goodwin, Allison McCauley, Krissie Talley, Tami Westfall, Shannon White and Emily Venable.
Elementary – Karen Kell, Janet McCullough, Tabitha Jones, Abbie Cortez, Hannah Topor, Laken McAdams, Kristy Vines and Krista Williams.
Junior high – Tammy Alexander, English Language Arts; Kynnedi Gordon, English Language Arts; Tandi Ray, Math; Lori Williams, Math; and Linda Stiver, Math.
High school – Kim Newton and Holly Smith.
The board accepted the following resignations:
Vanessa Keaster, elementary school counselor. “She has 37 years,” Graham said. “She’s been here from Paul Tollett to Rick Rebsamen.”
Myra Brand, elementary secretary.
Chris Benson, coach and teacher.
Ashley Waldrop, elementary treacher.
The following were hired for the 2020-21 academic year:
Brett Burgess, head coach of junior high girls basketball.
Kelli Webb, elementary counselor, transferred from classroom teacher.
Hilary Solorio, elementary teacher.
Valerie Erby, elementary secretary.
Clarissa Brizo, secondary ESL aide.
Graham reviewed the district’s financial report. Through 11 months of the fiscal year, “All categories look good,” he said.
The district has an operating balance of $5,404,000. State law requires that schools carry no more than 20 percent of their gross revenue over in their operating balances.
For Nashville, that’s usually $3.8-4 million, Graham said. However, that requirement has been waived for this year because of Covid-19, he said.