Nashville school superintendent: no new Macs

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The new director of schools for the Metro-Davidson County School System in Nashville, TN, last week announced that no new Macs will be purchased by the system -- and that all new computers purchases will preferably be Dell systems. Macs can only be bought with parent-teacher organization funds, donated money or grants. Several teachers told MacCentral that they're feeling pressure not to use grant money for Apple equipment.

Davidson County Schools have traditionally been dual platform (some estimates have Macs at almost 70 percent). Dr. Pedro Garcia, who came aboard for the 2001-2002 school year, apparently hopes to change this in the long run. And while some educators are happy about the announcement, many are inflamed. MacCentral has talked with dozens of teachers -- most asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs.

At a Sept. 13 meeting with principals, Garcia made the following points:

  • He does prefer PCs and wants the high schools to purchase only Wintel systems when purchasing new equipment and have them filter down to the lower grades over time.
  • If you want any monetary assistance from the central office, it will be Wintel only.
  • The central office has US$15 million from the mayor with the possibility of getting more. This money will only be spent on PCs.
  • Garcia is hiring eight or more repair techs to come to schools to fix equipment.
  • We're told that nine schools had planned to order approximately $300,000 worth of Apple equipment with grant money. An educator at one school told MacCentral that all the time and effort people had spent submitting requisitions were now "moot." The grant money is still available, however, due to the director's push for Wintel systems, more than half of those funds are being redirected away from the Mac platform, sources tell us.

    "It also means that, since we've been using Macs for years, our few technical support people will have to re-advise staff on new software," one teacher said. "And then there's the big myth that PCs are cheaper. That's a crock. Every Mac we ordered came with AppleWorks so we had a complete working system. Dells comes with the operating system and nothing else. We'll have to buy Microsoft Works at $50 a pop, plus buy virus software for our Dell machines."

    Middle Tennessee is, admittedly, a Dell stronghold though Macs abound in local schools and other institutions. Twenty-eight months ago Dell announced it was coming to the area. The company has established assembly lines for its Dimension PCs in Lebanon, TN, and Inspiron and Latitude notebooks in Nashville. Michael Dell, founder and chief executive of Dell recently indicated that the Tennessee operations generate about $8.8 billion for the Texas-based computer maker, providing 28 percent of its total revenue.

    Not that this matters to lots of educators who feel the new director is forcing an unjustified decision down their throats.

    "I kind of wonder about a decision made for a system that is 70 percent Mac already," one educator said. "Let me get this straight. At our school, we have NO software for this platform, NO servers, NO hardware that could be used with it, and NO support for what will go wrong with PCs."

    Another questioned where the demand to go to a single platform came from? The educator called Garcia's decision "extremely arbitrary" and a "knee jerk reaction."

    "There was no consideration for the present or the future," the teacher told MacCentral. "We have no software or peripheral support. Staff will have to be retrained. And why? We can do everything on a Mac that we can do on a PC."

    At another school, teachers "stuck" with Macs will be second-class citizens, one educator told us. The PC server that's being forced on them won't service Macs, she said.

    "We had planned to put Accelerated Reader on a Mac server," the educator explained. "But teachers without Wintel systems won't be able to access Accelerated Reader or anything else on the server."

    One computer skills teacher said he couldn't "believe this decision was actually made." He said his school has 70 Macs, five Mac servers and lots of Mac software.

    "Our PTSA has recognized the need for teaching students about, and with, computer technology," he said. "They have invested well over $25,000 in the last few years. Metro has never had enough support personnel to help with technology as is, so many of the computer teachers have invested hundreds of thousands of hours to be trained, to set up and to problem solve Macintosh computers."

    He added that there's no point in dissing the Mac platform in an educational setting. "My students experience word processing, graphic manipulation, Internet activities, desktop publishing, database building, multimedia presentations and many other activities," he said. "They are not missing out using Macintosh computers."

    Jere Baxter School has over 200 Macs, most of which are at least Power Macs, and about one-third are iMacs. Two Rivers school just got a $250,000 grant for technology and were going to buy iBooks for all the teachers and set up a wireless network with new iMacs in the library.

    "All of these orders were 'intercepted' and changed to a PC order from Dell," a Jere Baxter teacher said. "But the teachers want Macs."

    A first grade teacher said that over the last decade, he's spent thousands, if not tens of thousands, of his own personal pocket funds on hardware, software and upkeep for his Macs at school and at home (home being an extension of his school workplace). He's spent hundreds of hours of his own time after school, trying to support his colleagues with technology issues and computer help, he added

    "My willingness to help and to give ends immediately when I am ordered by a bureaucratic tyrant who thinks that he commands omniscient insight," the teacher said. "I know that Mac is the format of all creative industry arms, from stage to visual arts. I know that children can understand Macs. The operating system is designed for them."

    He continued by saying that the expense of converting systems, piece-by-piece, is "ridiculously prohibitive and furthermore will never show improvement." He said the school system is going backwards.

    "If Dr. Garcia wants to run this school system as a business he should take a glance at our 'adept' state legislators who campaign on the same misguided agenda, then come to Nashville to discover that no, government is not business," the teacher said. "Education isn't either."

    Sharon Melton of Buena Vista Paideia Magnet School was a teacher who did agree to go on record. She said her school had planned to purchase 53 Macs and one Apple server. Going Dell will only net them 53 systems so they're getting less for their money, she said.

    "We'll follow our directions, but there are lots of us who resent being arbitrarily told which computer system we have to use without any input on our part," she said. "My main concern is that we are choosing one platform to make it easier for record keeping purposes, and we should choose a platform to best meet the needs of teachers and students for instruction and learning."

    Other educators said that things are complicated even more since the school system has no well-developed technology plan. If such a drastic move is in the works, most teachers said they would like a bit of reassurance that a solid transition plan was in place. But they said there isn't.

    Others argue that phasing out Macs is ludicrous since Apple leads the market in the number of units it has in place in K-12, with 27.7 percent in desktop installation and 34.9 percent in notebooks, according to a survey of 201 districts nationwide during the 2000-2001 school year by research firm International Data Corp.

    And as MacCentral reported on July 9, Dell isn't likely to overtake Apple in the educational computing market during this school year, based on statistics from Quality Education Data (QED) a provider of K-12 and higher education market research.

    According to QED's statistics, there are 2,727,018 to 3,236,798 Apple systems installed in U.S. public schools compared to Dell's 1,240,420 to 1,572,042 range and Compaq's 738,680 to 997,485. In other words, Apple has over twice as many systems in use.

    For the 2001-2002 school year, QED estimates that U.S. public schools will purchase 311,896 to 447,994 Macs compared to 203,808 to 270,500 Dell systems and 118,427 to 215,705 Compaq units.

    School board member Vern Denney is a Mac user. He admits he has a personal prejudice, but doesn't feel that it should dictate how the district should go.

    "I would hope that any applications that are adopted for system wide use would be Web-based to minimize the platform issue" he said.

    Garcia came to Nashville from California where he had been superintendent since 1994 of the Corona-Norco Unified School District just outside Los Angeles. Garcia, 54, was born in Cuba and came to America when he was 15. Garcia is bilingual, married with five grown children and five grandchildren.

    Garcia has spent his career in education. He graduated from the University of Kansas and received his master's degree from San Diego State University and a doctoral degree in education from the University of Southern California. He has been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent of schools.

    Last Thursday MacCentral e-mailed and called the director of schools with a list of questions to give him a chance to explain his decision. We also pointed out that we would be reporting on the matter on Sept. 17. However, neither he nor school board members, with the exception of Denney, responded.

    "Dr. Garcia has decided to bribe our system with money to convert us to PC," one educator told us. " If we can't use grant money to purchase Macs and are left to buy our own then, then he will slowly starve Mac users to nothing until we are forced to accept PC."

    And another teacher summed up the feelings of the educators with whom we spoke when she said that, "instead of moving forward, we'll be moving backward. This is going to create lots of headaches, and we've got enough headaches without ones like this."

    This story, "Nashville school superintendent: no new Macs" was originally published by PCWorld.

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