The Ottumwa Courier

May 13, 2013

Foundation's gift will change Ottumwa classrooms

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — It would take an investment annually until the year 2020 to get all the computers and training the Ottumwa school district wants. A gift just cut that wait in half.

Monday, the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation announced during a joint press conference with the school district that they were gifting the district with $1.3 million. The money will come over the course of three years.

"It probably moves our timeline from six years to reach our [technology goals] to three years," Superintendent Davis Eidahl told the Courier after the announcement. "But this isn't just about buying a million [dollars worth of] computers."

That's one of the points the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation board said they liked about the proposal from the district. That initiative, said board member Tom Lazio, was well thought out and designed to support itself. He told the Ottumwa school board, his own board and others at the Ottumwa High School library that there's no use having expensive computers that aren't running properly. So having a technician on staff, one of the initiatives listed, makes sense to Lazio.

The foundation's president and CEO, Brad Little, said staff needs to know how to operate the equipment. He joked that teachers needed to be almost as good at using the technology as the kids — there's a common statement by educators revealing children really do come to school knowing a lot about how to use a computer, sometimes more than the adults around them.

Little said there'd be training for the teachers, and the school district lists a plan to hire full-time "technology coaches" to help train teachers in the use of state-of-the-art technology.

"As a foundation, we are excited about the grant," said Little. "It's not just about the kids, it includes the teachers."

Eidahl said the money, along with a continuing investment by the school district, will pay to "equip every elementary class with devices to support instruction," as well as access to laptops for every teacher to use in the classroom.

The district had recently come up with a plan for what the district should look like at the end of this decade. The board referred to it as the "2020 Plan." The Legacy Foundation has put Ottumwa schools on track to reach their goal both faster and, Eidahl said, "equitably."

Adding a little bit of technology at a time as money becomes available means one classroom is going to have computers and another will not. That may be rectified the following year, but then there's another classroom on the other side of town without the same access.

"Now," said Eidahl, "the experience you get in one third-grade classroom is equal to the education a child receives in another third-grade classroom."

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark