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CCA board talks technology

District deploys computer devices to homes in response to COVID-19
The Clear Creek Amana School Board of Directors meets in-person and via Internet with Technology Director Joe Francis (at bottom left) during a Wednesday, May 6, work session in the district’s administration building near Oxford.

OXFORD– When Gov. Kim Reynolds cancelled the remainder of the school year in response to the COVID-19 crisis, districts across the state scrambled to provide computer devices in order to provide learning opportunities for their students. The Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District responded by deploying 413 Chromebooks to elementary students who did not have an Internet-capable device at home, and also has provided 25 “hot spots,” which provide an Internet connection
District Technology Director Joe Francis reported on his department’s efforts during a Wednesday, May 6, work session of the school board of directors at the administrative building near Oxford.
“We’re still getting calls daily,” Francis said adding he had 83 hot spot devices available if needed. “As the pandemic stretches out, more and more people seem to need more and more devices.” Initially 63 devices were requested and he began ordering them in late March and early April, and found they were hard to come by. As they became available, he snapped them up. “I didn’t want to cancel any orders,” Francis said, in the event more would be needed, but would not be available at a later date.
Francis obtained them from US Cellular (six-month contract at $40/month/device) and T-Mobile (12-month contract at $20/month/device). Sixty of the T-Mobile devices have been procured, and Francis said the district would continue using them after the crisis has finally passed citing a desire to provide Internet access for students on busses, at athletic events, and to be available for faculty and staff attending conferences where Internet connectivity is often limited and/or overwhelmed.
The hot spot devices and Chromebooks are getting a workout, Francis said.
“I do believe that they are being used, certainly more than if they (the Chromebooks) were in the carts in the buildings,” he reported. “The kids are using them.” The district emphasized to families to only request a device if they did not have one at home (computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone) capable of connecting to the Internet. As the crisis has progressed, he noted many families who did not have an Internet connection of their own now do, and no longer require a hot spot, “Which is good,” he said.
“Many, many more requests (were made) at the elementary level, which did not surprise me,” he added. “I think a lot of people don’t tend to get the Internet with younger-aged kids, more likely for the middle school and high school (aged kids), especially with (the district’s) 1:1.” Francis said his department has had pretty good success with deploying technology resources to families. “We’ve heard some pretty sad stories out there,” he said. “But, it’s been good, and people seem to be very appreciative.”
Superintendent Tim Kuehl told the board the Education Stabilization Fund for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provided to the district would be used to pay for the hot spot devices. CCA is receiving $102,929 out of $71.6 million being allocated to the State of Iowa.
“We’re doing what we can to help the folks that are out there,” Francis said.