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Class begins for Kansas City Public Schools with renewed focus on technology in the classroom

KCPS tech.jpg
Posted at 8:09 AM, Aug 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-12 09:09:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the doors open at Kansas City Public Schools Monday, the Missouri school district will have what it says is the best WiFi network of any district in the metro. And students will have either an iPad or Chromebook to access that WiFi.

The district's director of technology said KCPS spent the summer basically relaunching its technology program.

Students in kindergarten through second grade will now get iPads in the classroom. Students in third through sixth grade will get new Chromebook laptops. Students in middle and high schools will continue to use Chromebooks.

This school year, the district has put a focus on how teachers and students use the devices.

"If you're just using the devices for substitution and you do a worksheet on paper and now they're doing it on a computer, you're not going to get a lot of value out of that," said Joe Phillips, the district's director of technology.

For the first time since introducing the devices in 2014, KCPS worked with educators about how to best incorporate the devices into classroom teaching. The district also better trained teachers how to use the devices themselves.

"It's amazing because we've really shifted from this sit and get of information and now education has to be about how are you using that information and that's what the power of these devices can really deliver," Phillips said.

He highlighted how the devices can tailor a lesson plan to students who may be in the same class, but learning at different paces, so they both receive the same education.

Phillips said over the next five years, the district will spend approximately $10 million on new devices.

With the devices comes protections against hackers, cyberbullying and more. Phillips said the district uses content filters and monitoring software. Parents and teacher can track how much screen time students spend on the devices and whether they're playing games or working on education-based websites.

Phillips said the monitoring software also looks for cyberbullying. Specifically, it checks Google Doc files, which some students now use as chat rooms disguised as collaborative projects.

With so much attention on technology, the district protects its network with a series of firewalls, software and insurance. Phillips said the identities of children are 100 times more valuable on the Black Market than the identity of an adult, which makes school districts big targets for hackers.

"The reason that data is so valuable is it can be 10 to 12 years before that student tries to access their own info for credit and that stuff, so [hackers] get a lot more out of it," he said.

Phillips said the district uses a "triangle of safety" approach with multiple backups in place to protect student identities and financial information.

The Kansas City Chiefs Community Caring Team welcomed students back to Central High School and Central Middle School Monday. In 2015, the Kansas City Chiefs football team and Hunt Family Foundation helped bring City Year Kansas City Team Sponsors to Central Middle School. City Year is a program which places AmeriCorps members in the public school system to mentor and tutor children.

This year, 66 AmeriCorps members will work in seven Kansas City schools during and after class to help increase academic achievement and student engagement.

Central High School Principal Anthony Madry said because the City Year members are about the same age as high school students, it can often be easier for students to connect with them.