Valley districts start school year with high-tech gadgets

The Fresno BeeAugust 9, 2013 

Angel Mesa, left, of California Track and Engineering Inc. shovels out bits of rubber that will make up the surface of the new track at Washington Union High School in Easton which is undergoing a stadium renovation.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

More Valley students will tap notes onto glass tablet screens this year as nearby districts begin supplanting traditional paper notebooks with hand-held computers.

Local school administrators say 2013 is the year for high-tech accessories.

Washington Unified students can expect to see shiny new Chromebooks in their classrooms when they begin the new school year this week.

Washington's schools spent $150,000 to pilot 450 Chromebooks this year, which will prepare students to use more technology under the Common Core State Standards, said human resources director Toshia Blunt.

"We're trying to use them across curriculum so they will be used in all classes," Blunt said.

Those new math and English benchmarks are described as a way to help students compete globally as they move on to higher education and careers. Over the summer, Valley teachers spent weeks preparing lesson plans that align with the new standards.

Central Unified Superintendent Mike Berg said a group of 30 teachers from across the district is drafting new lessons that help students apply what they're learning to everyday life. The new standards are heavy on critical thinking, he said, and will force students and teachers to rethink the way they approach learning.

Technology will be integral to transitioning to the new educational model: Berg said Central is breaking from the traditional textbook model and working with a publisher this year to create customized digital lesson plans.

Teachers will get a 10.5-inch Android tablet this fall. Each of the district's 15,000 students will get a similar device the following year, he said. The new computers amount to a $5 million capital investment, with an additional $2 million to $3 million in upkeep costs each year.

"This is far more than just a new book and class," he said.

Students in Tulare went back to class Thursday. The Valley's two biggest districts, Fresno Unified and Clovis Unified, start Aug. 19.

But for many Valley school districts, class starts in the next few days.

Here's a look at this week's first day of school for some districts and colleges around the Valley:

Monday, Aug. 12: Burrel Union, Golden Plains Unified, Madera Unified, Mendota Unified, Porterville Unified, Reedley College, Fresno City College, Willow International Community College Center, College of the Sequoias.

Tuesday, Aug. 13: Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified, Washington Unified.

Wednesday, Aug. 14: Alvina Elementary Charter, Caruthers Unified, Central Unified, Coalinga-Huron Unified, Sutherland, Kerman Unified, Laton Unified, Orange Center, Pacific Union, Raisin City.

Thursday, Aug. 15: Fowler Unified, Riverdale Unified, Selma Unified, Visalia Unified, Westside.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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