How to cope with laptop and device shortages

'We essentially look at a five-year plan and condensed it down to a few months,' tech director says
By: | November 5, 2020
Educators in Newport News Public Schools distribute laptops this summer for online learning.Educators in Newport News Public Schools distribute laptops this summer for online learning.

Educators in Newport News Public Schools were steadily working their way through a five-year 1-to-1 plan to provide all students with laptops when the COVID pandemic struck in March.

Even before coronavirus spread to the U.S. and shut down schools, the Virginia district’s Director of Technology Chris Jenkins warned his colleagues about supply chain problems in China.

He and his direct supervisor, the assistant superintendent for business operations, responded quickly.

To get ahead of a rush for laptops by schools and businesses, they pulled together some Title I and Title IV funding, along with some district funds, and immediately placed an order for 7,500 Chromebooks.

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“We essentially ook a five-year plan and condensed it down to a few months,” Jenkins says of the district’s accelerated 1-to-1 initiative.

Expecting the 2020-21 school year to begin virtually, Jenkins ordered another 7,500 Chromebooks in June.

When the first shipment arrived in July, district leaders distributed the laptops so all secondary students had devices for online learning. School principals scheduled pickup dates and notified the families who had requested devices.

The 28,000-student district also paid extra on its shipment to have the laptops pre-configured for its networks, Jenkins says.

And because surveys indicated that approximately 15% of families lacked internet access, educators distributed about 4,000 mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

Jenkins is still waiting for the second shipment of Chromebooks, which he expects to receive in the next few weeks.

Until then, the district has been distributing dozens of classroom Chromebooks. It has also used Neverware software to install the Chromebook operating system on older Windows computers that had been relegated to a district warehouse.

With the district remaining online so far this school year, every student who has requested a device now has one, Jenkins says.

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“We’re hearing that all the kids have been able to log in and join Zoom meetings and do their assignments,” Jenkins says.

Working with its reseller, CDW, increased the district’s purchasing power when it ordered the laptops.

“I struggled at first to understand how a ‘middle man’ was going to make things better,” Jenkins says. “We’ve found that because of their buying power and how much they buy, not only do they get better prices but they can get devices quicker because of the relationships they have.”

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