16 Schools To Go Digital With 'Blended Learning' In August

By Bill Dries

When the new school year begins in August, a group of 16 Shelby County Schools will give students digital devices loaded with a curriculum to allow them to continue what they did in the classroom, while they are away from school.

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson and his staff outlined details of the “blended learning” pilot program Tuesday, Jan. 21, at a school board work session.

Hopson also announced the school system will offer free breakfast, lunch and supper to all children in all schools with the new school year in a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that will eliminate much of the bureaucracy involved in the long-running free and reduced lunch program.

Some details of the “blended learning” pilot including what kind of devices the pilot program will use are still to be decided. The schools haven’t been selected yet. But Hopson said last week that he wants some of the schools that students would be transferred to if their schools are closed next year to be part of the pilot program.

Cost estimates range from $292 per device to $875 per device including curriculum as well as the ability to monitor what students are seeing and where the devices are at all times. The wide range of cost estimates at this point is based on what other school systems of different size have paid.

Shelby County Schools would start with 12,000 devices and probably not buy them but lease them for a three-year period.

The changes to the school system’s breakfast, lunch and supper program are part of a federal program the school system qualified for because of the area’s high poverty rate.

In the current school year, Shelby County Schools has offered free breakfast, lunch and supper as the school system’s choice with the cost being reimbursed by the USDA.

Shelby County Schools go to the concept of “community eligibility” with the 2014-2015 school year.

Instead of now tracking each student and what meal they receive, the school system will simply track how many meals are served at the schools. Adults and students who order ala carte would still pay. But the school system also intends to go cashless in the new school year on that front with online accounts.

The universal free meals will also apply to school lunchrooms in the Achievement School District and charter schools that Shelby County Schools currently provides meals to.

Nutrition Services Director Tony Geraci also told board members that the school system’s menu will get an overhaul in the new school year adding more items made from food grown in school gardens.

There is one complication schools officials are still working through. The number of students in free and reduced school lunch programs are a standard used to determine federal Title I funding and discounted telecommunications services rates.

There are alternatives to using that data to qualify for both types of funding and/or determine the amount of funding.