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For Guilford schools, a milestone: A new laptop or tablet available for each student
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For Guilford schools, a milestone: A new laptop or tablet available for each student

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Final laptops delivered to Oak Ridge Elementary. GCS has one device for each student and teacher.

OAK RIDGE — For Oak Ridge Elementary fifth-grader Katie Parker, a delivery brought relief from a frustrating situation. 

Some of the keys on the old laptop she borrowed from school didn't work — a pain for getting anything done. 

But on Wednesday, Katie received a just out-of-the-box Lenovo Chromebook.

"It's going to be way better," she said. 

Guilford County Schools leaders are looking forward to a new, hopefully less frustrating technological era as the final shipments of laptops ordered this summer arrived at schools. 

"I am so glad these laptops are here," Superintendent Sharon Contreras said Wednesday. "Oh, my goodness. What an ordeal!" 

With the new deliveries, the district now has one laptop or tablet for each student — a need that became more critical with students forced to learn at home during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Contreras said the district unsuccessfully sought funding to achieve that goal prior to the pandemic's arrival. 

"This was needed way before the pandemic," she said. 

County and school leaders spent $35 million on orders for 79,000 laptops and tablets for students and staff, Angie Henry, the district's chief of operations and finances, said last August. 

That included $19 million in federal CARES Act funding. The rest, she said, the district pulled together from other sources, such as state coronavirus assistance and from its budget. 

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Candace Salmon-Hosey, the district's technology chief, said that some departments were also able to purchase devices from their own budgets, bringing the total number of new devices loaned to students and staff to 80,900 as of Wednesday. 

The district has 69,968 students with about 22,500 still learning remotely. Most students have returned to in-person classes, but many middle and high school students are still receiving only two days of in-person instruction per week.

The district ordered 13,000 devices last spring before the rest of the funding came through. Those arrived in time for the beginning of the school year. According to Henry, the district had been told to expect the remainder by December, but she warned that other school districts had seen delays during the pandemic.

Teacher laptops from that order came in December, but Chromebooks for students in fourth through 12th grades didn't arrive until after winter break.

A truck brought the last of the laptops to Oak Ridge Elementary and a few other schools on Wednesday. 

Contreras said that the massive demand from schools during the pandemic led to logjams in the supply chain. 

While they waited on the devices, district staff scrambled to get older laptops to students or to connect them with donated ones.

An estimated 5,000 students started the school year without a device for remote learning. 

"We are never going to be in this situation again," Contreras vowed Wednesday.

Salmon-Hosey said district leaders have begun conversations about how they will eventually replace them. The devices belong to the district, not students, so the school system expects to use them year after year.  

Ideally, she said, a recurring budget item would allow for replacing a percentage of devices each year, avoiding the need for huge purchases. 

Salmon-Hosey said figuring that out will be critical. 

"We have to sustain this momentum," she said. "Right now we are in a new, exciting place, but we can't let it go by the wayside."

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.​

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Related to this story

Educators and families are adapting to new technology and figuring out how to balance their time. They are discovering benefits to online learning, as well as downsides, with many of them missing aspects of in-person school. 

"I always knew teachers were important," said parent Amy Holdren, "but man does this really drive that point home."

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