LEWISTON – If each of Lewiston High School’s 1,400 students and teachers tried logging into the school’s Internet system at once, the present system would crash.

By next fall, it might not be a problem.

Planned upgrades to the school’s wireless computer network will make it state of the art, even before Maine’s plan to issue laptops to all high schoolers takes effect, Principal Gus LeBlanc said Monday.

“I think the school is in a much better position than most high schools around us,” LeBlanc told the Lewiston School Committee.

However, he stopped short of saying whether the school would be ready to join the state Department of Education’s laptop plan.

The state plans to supply the computers and at least part of the wireless costs.

However, no one really knows how many other costs may come up. Computers need storage, a place to charge and somebody to fix them. And teachers need help in weaving them into their classrooms.

“This is like giving someone a refrigerator when they can’t afford food to put into it,” Committee member John Butler said.

Schools may opt out. Technology funds from the state, originally meant to help schools bring laptops into the classroom, would still arrive.

However, 152 teachers and staff at the high school would be forced to surrender their laptops, if the school opted out of the new plan.

“That’s ridiculous,” committee member Ronella Paradis said.

The state has a vested interest in getting schools to sign on.

The deal with Apple calls for the purchase of at least 100,000 MacBooks. The existing program includes about 43,000 laptops distributed to seventh- and eighth-graders as well as teachers in middle and high schools.

If too few schools sign on, the price for each computer will rise.

“It doesn’t seem to be thought out completely,” said Leon Levesque, Lewiston’s superintendent.

He also warned that the high school laptop program is still a concept until the Maine Legislature makes it law.

If that happens – and Lewiston signs on – LeBlanc figures that his teachers will manage. He is also working on a plan to shift assignments to prevent any need for hiring new staff.

Levesque insisted Monday that Lewiston will only join if it can do it with present staff.

The school’s teachers are already working to boost the use of technology in the classroom, LeBlanc said.

Half of one teacher’s time has been devoted to helping other teachers use computers. Databases, spreadsheets and computer slide shows are all commonly used by students, he said.

“Our staff has made a lot of growth over the past 18 months,” he said.

Again, LeBlanc stopped short of endorsing the plan. But he said he would feel awful if most of Maine’s high schoolers were given something that his students didn’t have.

“I don’t think any of us would be happy with that,” LeBlanc said.


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