In an attempt to get every school onto the same technological page, the Howard County school system is phasing in a plan to get rid of about 4,000 computers, servers and other types of technology deemed behind current standards.
The department, under an agreement with Apple Financial Services of Austin, Texas, will pay $1.6 million a year to lease new equipment -- including desktop and laptop computers and up-to-date operating systems -- and at the end of four years will have the opportunity to purchase each computer for a dollar.
The process begins in February, and officials hope that schools will have the new equipment in place by May.
"We want to have an environment that encourages e-learning," said Bob Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The system needs "a uniform infrastructure to deliver instruction."
A systemwide survey showed that school computers were operating under a variety of software, some as old as Windows 95.
"Teachers were not able to go from room ... to room ... because there was different technology," said Tom Miller, e-learning facilitator for the school system. "This plan allows us to move forward."
Miller, who has spent nine months working with 70 school media specialists in an attempt to assess all of the computers, said some computers are 10 years old.
"By nature, teachers don't give everything up," Miller said.
Under the new arrangement, all high school computers in the Howard County system will be upgraded to Microsoft Windows XP. Computers at the elementary and middle school level will be upgraded to Macintosh OS X Tiger.
Miller said the school system is working out a deal with a Maryland company under which the discarded equipment might yield a profit.
"We haven't finalized an arrangement," Miller said.
The plan will also equip each school with a group of laptop computers called a mobile lab. At the elementary level, the mobile lab will consist of 15 computers. Middle and high schools will have groups of 30.
"This is all about instruction," said Miller. "This is about laying a foundation that will put us ahead three, four years down the line."
The new plan will affect donated computers, which will have to meet the new criteria and cannot be more than three years old.
"We don't want to wind up with a lot of instructionally invalid equipment," Glascock said. "New computers will be purchased for the uniform teaching of all students."
Glascock said the system is attempting to close the digital divide between teachers, whom he affectionately calls "digital immigrants," and students, whom he considers "digital natives." Under the plan, each teacher will get the choice of a laptop or desktop computer.
School system employees said they are looking forward to the upgrades.
"We're heads over heels over this issue," said Tony Miceli, instructional team leader of mathematics and also a member of the technology team at Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City. "For the teachers here at Burleigh, we're very excited about it."
Miceli said pupils and teachers have been prevented from gaining access to some educational Web sites, such as National Geographic's, because computers being used do not have the necessary technology.
Now, teachers "will be able to find different tools to improve the students getting ready for assessments," Miceli said. "We want to [add] more technology into our instruction. ... This is the first step."