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MUSD buys computers for Going Digital project
At the school board meeting Tuesday night, Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer showed off a sample of the 3E computer that will be in the hands of every student in the district when the districts $30 million Going Digital project is fully deployed. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin

It was a Price is Right moment. Others used Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune fame for analogy.

What brought on those comparisons at Tuesday night’s Manteca Unified Board of Trustees meeting was the sight of Superintendent Jason Messer and Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke displaying a la Vanna White for all to see samples of the 10-inch 3E hybrid tablet that will be in the hands of all 23,000 students in the school district in January 2015. Priced at under $500 each, this rugged – if you drop it, it will survive with its tech guts intact and its shell suffering no cracks – educational tech tool with a four-hour battery life and built-in stylus plus temperature control, is part of the district’s ambitious $30 million Going Digital program which is planned for full deployment in 2015.

The board, at the meeting, voted 6-1 to approve purchasing the student computer devices through Microsoft Store, with the purchase contract estimated to be $14.8 million. The lone nay vote came from Trustee Nancy Teicheira who explained that she was “not against the program” but that she has not reviewed “the whole thing.” Although she was not physically present at the meeting, Trustee Evelyn Moore, who is vacationing in Utah, was able to vote via teleconference instead of via Skype as previously discussed.

Trustee Manuel Medeiros’ yes vote came with a bit of trepidation. “I vote yes; I hope I don’t regret it,” he later commented.

Board President Don Scholl expressed great hope that the Going Digital program will help open doors for future jobs for all students.

Going Digital has catapulted Manteca Unified into a rarified plateau among school districts in the country, that of taking the lead in education by bringing the digital world into the hands of students not just in the classroom but beyond. The significance of that was not lost on Trustee Michael Seelye who commented that this is the first time that he has been involved in an organization that took a lead role in the country.

The board’s majority vote marked the entrance to Phase II of the Going Digital project. The negotiations with Microsoft Store began with the blessings of the board by vote in July. Per the results of Request for Proposals sent to four of Panasonic’s top tier partners requesting their individual proposals for the student devices as well as services needed for their deployment, staff recommended the partnership with Microsoft Store over Troxell, the other Panasonic partner that was considered in the negotiation process.

A team of Panasonic representatives was present to answer questions from the board, some of which involved store and services accessibility as well as the lifespan of the computers and its programs before they become obsolete.

The first phase of Going Digital was to get all elementary and high schools as well as the district office ready for wireless services. That involved upgrading all computer infrastructures – removing aging and obsolete wiring and replacing them with new ones that will be compatible with latest state-of-the-art computer devices.

Everything that has been done so far to get the job done for the Going Digital project took “less than nine months” with more than 250 hours of staff time involved, particularly on the part of staff members Victoria Brunn and Colby Clark.

A few facts about the 3E hybrid tablet besides the fact it is as light as a notebook: it has a 10-inch 1366x768 LCD five-point touch display; inside its thin body lies a 1.3-GHz Atom AZ3740D quad-core chip from Intel, 2GB RAM, and a 32GB or 64GB of flash storage; and is powered Windows 8.1 Pro operating system from Microsoft.

Money that will be used to purchase the 3E computer tablets will come from the district’s general fund.

Statements from school district and Panasonic officials about this historic point in Manteca Unified’s Going Digital project:

Board president Don Scholl: “Tonight, the board took action that will greatly enhance the educational options for our students of today, and the future. The partnership with Microsoft, Panasonic and Intel is one that, once the devices are deployed to the students in early 2015, will immediately benefit the students, their families and our teachers by opening windows to the vast array of information and learning opportunities available on the Internet. Access to the digital world will now be in every student’s hands in the classroom and beyond. They will now be able to more freely and creatively share their ideas with one another. This will enable our students to better prepare themselves for life after Manteca Unified – whether they go on to college, or go on to compete for a new career.”

Margo Day, vice president, U.S. Education, Microsoft Corp.: “Manteca Unified is an excellent example for how school districts across the country can be thoughtful in their strategy and implementation of Office 365 and devices running Windows 8.1, to have a direct impact on student learning.”

Rance Poehler, president at Panasonic System Communications Company of North America: “Delivering a student device was not our goal; we wanted to deliver the solution to challenges faced specifically by K-12 students and educators. Today’s students are digital natives, and we can’t expect them to respond to learning environments and lessons that are devoid of technology. We hear from students, teachers and administrators that technology is making a difference in student engagement and performance.”

Superintendent Jason Messer: “I am excited about the next phase of our deployment and the partnerships we have established; this for us is not only about a device but about us preparing teachers in supporting students for their future.”