Kelly May-Vollmar, Ed.D. serves as superintendent of educational and technology services for Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta, California. This blog post describes a system that would allow districts to purchase devices in a way that puts less fiscal pressure on the annual technology budget. Each year, the Desert Sands Unified School District refreshes just onesixth of all of their devices. When her district first started 1:1 in 2014, they had purchased devices in bulk. The issue that arose in a few years was that all devices reached End-of-life en masse. This post will describe the system employed by Dr. May-Vollmar which works to bring the large price tag of purchasing all devices at once, to a much more manageable number.   

There are some meaningful takeaways from the anecdote shared by Dr. May-Vollmar for building out a fiscally sustainable purchasing model for student devices. It is evident that taking End-of-life (EOL) into consideration is key. The purchasing model is referred to as a “stagger system” due to the staggered manner with which devices reach their EOL. Another important aspect to consider for this system is determining the timing of students’ device refresh. This refers to the point at which their devices, which have reached the End-of-life, are exchanged for new ones. The curriculum is an important factor in determining when to do this refresh. The following sections expand on these takeaways.  

Consider End of Life  

Knowing the EOL of any device is key. As a best practice, Dr. May-Vollmar suggests that when choosing what device to purchase, one should keep in mind the EOL date and try to have it as far in the future as possible. She reiterates  that purchasing the newest model does not mean they will last longer. She states, “You could have Model A from one manufacturer and Model B from another and they both are released in 2023, but one of them will have a 2027 endof-life and one of them will have a 2025 endoflife.” Districts should not make a large bulk purchase of devices with the same EOL. The EOL should be staggered so that the devices do not go out of commission at the same time. Purchasing devices should be done in “batches,” with each batch having a different EOL. mak 8wy9mggmgou unsplash

How can this (buying devices with various EOLs) be done when pushing back the EOL date as much as possible was just identified as a best practice? In other words, shouldn’t the device with the latest EOL date be the one that is acquired for everyone? Director of Innovative Technology at Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit 5, Vince Hume, states how a device’s computing capabilities can influence how long they last. For example, a device with higher computing capabilities may have a shorter life cycle. Choosing what kind of device to purchase should closely align with the educational curriculum. It is only natural that diverse grade levels merit devices with varied computing power. Therefore, it is not advisable to purchase the same device across all grades. This aligns with the suggestion to purchase devices in batches that all have the same EOL, with each batch coinciding with specific grade level ranges.   

Curriculum Alignment  

Hume suggests aligning refresh cycles of devices to coincide with educational milestones. First, technology leaders need to decide when to introduce devices for the first time. After that, what is an educational milestone that necessitates a new device? Chief Information Officer for Wichita Public Schools Rob Dickson gives an example of when to shift devices based on milestones. Depending on the school curriculum, students may start to learn typing skills in the third or fourth grade. This milestone, the acquiring of typing skills, warrants a device that supports keyboard usage, such as a laptop over a tablet.  

Don Ringelestein, the Executive Director of Technology at Yorkville Community Unit School District 115, provides a breakdown of grade ranges that typically share the same device:  

  • Kindergarten through third grade  
  • Fourth through eighth grade  
  • Ninth through twelfth grade

This breakdown should be tweaked depending on your district’s educational curriculum. For example, if third graders are learning how to type, perhaps that’s when a new device should be introduced. Ringelestein also mentions that it’s possible to recycle devices to the kindergarten level from graduating seniors and then buying new ones starting in fourth grade. In kindergarten, the demand for computing resources is not as high as in upper-level grades so they can fare well with an older, used device.   

Below is a table that shows how a staggered EOL for devices can work to lower the annual spending as only a fraction of the total number of devices needs to be purchased:  





With the stagger system, the annual budget needs to allocate funds for only a fraction of the total number of devices needed. Dr. May-Vollmar emphasizes the need for board agreement in setting aside a certain amount of funds per year to support this refresh.  

Author: Monet Massac, CoSN’s 2023 Blaschke Fellow

Introducing the first blog in a series by Monet Massac, this blog serves as a companion to the forthcoming comprehensive report on device sustainability, slated for release this Fall.

Published on: August 23, 2023

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