East Cary Middle didn’t experience tablet computer problems

snagem@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

Spencer Maldonado, then a sixth-grader at East Cary Middle School, checked out his Amplify computer tablet in April.

THE CARY NEWS FILE PHOTO

— East Cary Middle School did not experience problems with malfunctioning chargers for Amplify computer tablets that have been reported in the Guilford County school system, according to East Cary’s principal.

Last spring, East Cary Middle began a months-long pilot program in which almost 300 sixth-graders got mini-computers they could take home and bring to class. The program ended about a month ago.

The Wake County school board removed from its agenda last month a vote to spend nearly $539,000 in federal Race to the Top money to buy Amplify tablets for East Cary Middle.

School board member Bill Fletcher, who represents Cary, said the vote was delayed because school officials had concerns about the tablets.

Guilford County Schools bought more than 15,000 Amplify tablets for middle school students. The district said several tablets suffered broken screens and some chargers had melted, according to media reports.

“We want to make sure before we commit to a multiyear contact that there won’t be the same problems here,” Fletcher said.

Dr. Kerry Chisnall, principal at East Cary Middle, said the school did not experience issues with the tablets’ chargers. A couple dozen tablet screens broke over the six-month period, but Chisnall said the number was “not absurd.”

“(We) had a fabulous experience,” he said.

East Cary Middle used the same model tablet as Guilford County schools, said Justin Hamilton, senior vice president for corporate communications for Amplify Tablet, based in New York City. Amplify is looking into the issues reported in Guilford, Hamilton said. “We’re not at a point yet where we have answers, but we’re very anxious to get them,” he said.

Hamilton said he visited East Cary Middle, where the pilot program seemed a success.

“I think the parents I met with there had positive experiences,” he said.

Fletcher said he also visited East Cary Middle at the end of September, and he didn’t hear complaints about the tablets. He said his main concern at this point is ensuring students have Internet access at home.

Fletcher said he has talked to Cary officials about the possibility of a private-public partnership for wireless service. “I’m at a brainstorming stage,” he said.

Spotty Internet access sometimes posed a challenge at East Cary Middle during the pilot program, Chisnall said.

“If you lose Internet, you have to adapt and maybe go back to paper and pencil and whiteboards,” he said.

But, Chisnall said, he hopes the school will get a permanent set of tablets, which students can use for homework, research and communicating with teachers.

“We found the students would be much more engaged using the tablets,” he said.

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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