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Nevis School referendum goes to voters on Tuesday

Nevis School

Nevis School District voters will be heading to the polls Tuesday to determine the fate of a two-tiered referendum, one of which, if approved, will soundly launch students into the digital age.

The district is asking for $252 per resident pupil operating levy, double the existing levy of $126, which expires at year's end.

Nevis is one of 126 Minnesota school districts - more than a third - seeking a levy referendum, the highest number in more than a decade. Continuing budget shifts from the state Legislature is prompting the request for taxpayer help.

Voters also will be asked to approve an additional $225 per resident pupil for technology. This is contingent on passage of the first question.

If the proposal earns voter approval, every Nevis student in grades 4 or 5 through 12 would have their own computer that would be used for nearly all subjects and could be taken home to complete assignments.

Some view the move with skepticism. Few have seen an iPad or a prototype; and fewer still have used one.

The iPad weighs a little over a pound and is about a third of an inch think. Ironically, it's about the size of a hand-held blackboard that kids used in the last millennium.

Books and thousands of educational programs can be downloaded on the iPad. The Internet is but a touch away.

"Kids today are digital learners," superintendent Steve Rassier said. "It's no longer paper and pencil but electronic transfer of information."

Rassier had just returned from a rural schools summit in Brainerd Thursday, with the Little Falls school reps lauding the launching of tablet computers in their school this fall.

"As soon as I turned it on, I knew this was the device education needed," technology coordinator Mark Diehl said of the iPod, debuting in 2010.

In September, 1,650 Little Falls students in grades 5-12 were given iPads, an $825,000 cost in hardware.

"Excitement" ensued.

The kids are active, engaged learners, Little Falls superintendent Curt Tryggestad told the audience of administrators and school board members meeting at Cragun's Resort.

The numbers aren't in yet on computers improving standardized test scores, he said, but the enthusiasm is unassailable.

The implementation has been found to boost communication between teachers and students and with parents.

The use of paper in the Morrison County school system has fallen dramatically, Tryggestad said.

Kids are energized about learning, Rassier said. "Information comes to life on the screen."

And a role reversal often takes place; kids tutor teachers on technology questions.

About 50 percent of learning is via traditional classroom teaching, Rassier said. The remaining time is spent "exploring, creating and researching" on the computer.

If the levy is approved, the school's technology committee will review hardware options, Rassier said.

The levy would provide about $70,000 a year with interest-free loans available. The finance committee would determine how the iPads or prototypes would be financed.

Little Falls has opted to lease the iPads on a three-year basis. The district has put a rider on their existing property insurance to cover lost, stolen or damaged computers.

Rassier anticipates students taking "ownership" of the devices, guardians of their property.

Teachers would undergo training and determine the applications at each grade level.

Of the dozen residents who arrived for the recent public forum on the issue, no one raised questions on the need for the operating levy. That appears implicit.

The technology levy became the prime focus of discussion, with voters posing questions on the need to provide each student with an iPad or a prototype.

At the meeting's end, many appeared to have become proponents of the proposal.

Currently, the school is home to just one of the tablet computers, Kay Netteberg using an iPad with her early childhood kids and special education kindergartners. The computer, purchased via the PAWN cooperative, serves as a platform for audio-visual teaching.

Children are able to enhance letter formation skills and motor skills via a stylus. They problem solve, learn sequencing and much more, she said

"One on one, it's a fantastic tool," Netteberg said.

Special education teacher Leslie Sagen, who's used one on a loan basis, is now seeking grants to purchase more.

"The iPad allows all three learning modalities that students work through, visual, auditory and kinesthetic," Sagen said. "Each device can be customized with apps each student needs for communication, information access and production (showing what they know).

"It allows for personalized learning," Sagen said of students with vision impairment, who are deaf or hard of hearing, have a language/speech delay or have physical or learning delays.

Nevis School now has three computer labs, all of which would likely remain, Rassier said. One would be used for state testing, another for computer-assisted drafting and design and a third in the business classroom.

Portable laptops, however, would probably be eliminated.

Other districts have taken the "baby steps" toward implementing iPads or prototypes, Rassier said of working out the kinks.

"It's coming. We don't want to be the last to endorse. Now is the time to leap frog," he said.