School Board Votes To Go Digital

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools took a big financial step last week toward an initiative that could soon put some classroom textbooks on the shelf.

The school board voted unanimously Thursday to spend $9.5 million on software that will let officials start moving toward a digital classroom.

The money is needed for a contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers to begin working with the district's departments of information management, teaching and learning support and human resources.

Initial funding for the software comes from federal Race to the Top grants, but the bulk of it will be paid for with the Education SPLOST, or extension of the 1-cent sales tax which is slated for a November referendum.

School Board Member Daniel Seckinger said the initiative, called eCLASS, is a plus.

"It's far less paper, far less book-driven, far more information driven," Seckinger said. "Financially, it will be dwarfed by what we would spend on buying new textbooks."

Textbooks normally run the district $25 million to $30 million each year that the district allocates funding for them.

eCLASS, which stands for Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System, is set to start officially in August 2012. District officials plan to use several clusters or communities to "pilot" the program.

A digital "cloud" would be used to teach students math, science and foreign language skills.

Over the course of three to five years, the school system has plans to fully incorporate eCLASS.

Associate Superintendent Dale Robbins said the program is "at the heart of an effective classroom experience.

"It can transform learning by moving us from a hard-copy printed textbook environment to digital resources and interactive opportunities for problem-solving and decision-making," Robbins said.

Using eCLASS, student work can be "reviewed, graded and returned without the need for any paper to exchange hands."

Digital content would be housed by the school system. However, students and teachers could also access "external cloud" libraries like NASA and Georgia Tech to tap into further content.

For more information about eCLASS, visit www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us.