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Gainesville school board studies textbook alternatives
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Gainesville City Schools officials are pondering how to increase learning and decrease costs at the same time.

During Monday’s school board meeting, the group continued a discussion about how to possibly integrate learning materials other than textbooks. Those materials could include everything from a list of teacher-approved Web sites, to handouts and CDs.

“We’re in a transition between mediums — it’s not just us, other systems are looking at the same issue,” Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

The potential transition is as much about the rising cost of textbooks, as it is about providing the best learning opportunities for students. But several school board members stressed the importance of not eliminating textbooks.

Speaking about his experience helping kids with homework, board chairman R. David Syfan said it can be frustrating when there is no textbook to use.

“You’re in a situation where your kids say they don’t know how to do something on their homework, and there you are trying to help with something that you haven’t done in 30 years,” Syfan said. “And when you say, ‘Where’s your textbook,’ and they don’t have one, it can be a very frustrating experience.”

Other board members also expressed concerns about students not having a textbook to refer to for homework.

“Everyone seems to be assuming that everybody has access to the Internet, and they don’t,” board member Delores Diaz said. “We don’t need to go to a computer-based learning (model) if all of our students don’t have access.”

System officials recently conducted a survey to determine how many students have access to a computer at home.

According to the responses, about 62 percent to 90 percent of students have access to a computer outside of school. Only 7 percent of students responded to the survey, though 800 of 6,573 students viewed it.

“This is just a sample, but one thing that I can say about the survey is that, while it doesn’t show where we are, it does show where we’ve come from,” said Keith Palmer, system technology director. “About five years ago, only around 40 to 45 percent of students had (home) computers.”

Dyer said the system may want to consider opening more computer labs to the community after school, to allow students and their parents to have Internet access. Currently, only Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School offers that opportunity.

“The challenge to this is how do we get (computer) access to all students,” Dyer said. “This could create a bigger divide between (those with computers and those without) if we don’t look at this very carefully.”

Officials expect to continue studying the process and getting feedback from parents and teachers before reporting to the school board during its May meeting.