Proposed Portland charter school signs laptop deal with Google

This 20,000-square-foot building at 54 York St. in Portland will become the new home of the Baxter Academy for Math and Science if the organization is approved to become the state's first charter school.
This 20,000-square-foot building at 54 York St. in Portland will become the new home of the Baxter Academy for Math and Science if the organization is approved to become the state's first charter school. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 27, 2012, at 5:46 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2012, at 9:17 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A proposed Portland science and technology charter school announced a major deal with Google on Friday to arm each of its students with the software company’s signature Chromebook laptops and wireless Internet accounts.

John Jaques — executive director of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, which will be located in a 20,000-square-foot building at 54 York St. if it receives a state permit to open — met with members of Google’s education division at the company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., last week to complete the laptop lease agreement.

According to a school announcement, the Baxter Academy arrangement represents Google’s largest deployment of the Chromebooks in New England, and the multibillion-dollar firm is counting the school as an important partner as it seeks traction for its 7-month-old laptop line. The school’s decision to link arms with Google also marks a departure from the state of Maine’s 10-year-old relationship with Apple, which has supplied all of the state’s public middle school students with laptops since 2002 as part of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

“We’re looking forward to working with Baxter Academy in Portland, and to Baxter becoming a strong regional representative for Google Chromebooks in the Northeast,” said Adam Naor of the Google Chromebook Education Team in a statement.

If the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science opens as planned, students there will have the equipment necessary to plug into the World Wide Web from anywhere in the city.

“One of the things that’s really attractive about the Chromebook is that there’s a model that allows the kids to connect to 3G [mobile networks], so if we’ve got a kid that doesn’t have wireless at home, they can get free Wi-Fi with these Chromebooks,” Jaques told the Bangor Daily News on Friday. “One of the problems with technology today in the hands of kids, is that it tends to be an additional expense on parents, and we wanted to minimize that expense.”

The Chromebooks slated to be leased by the school are manufactured by Samsung and use Google’s Chrome operating system, as well as the Internet company’s slate of office and organizational programs, which will be mutually accessible by teachers and students — meaning instructors at the school will be able to remotely check in on the students’ research, projects and schedules.

“The game-changing advantage Chromebooks represent to educational institutions is making the hardware transparent to the administrator,” said Google engineer Blasie Pabon in a statement released by the school. “There is no need to tie a machine to a particular user, no need to reimage the machine when it fails, no need to migrate data from one machine to another. The machine becomes as generic as a stapler, copier or white board.”

Jaques said academy founders already had decided to use Google’s email, calendar and writing programs in the school, “and when we compared products on the market using those tools, we decided the Chromebook was the best match.”

Jaques would not divulge the amount the school agreed to pay Google in the lease agreement, but said his organization will use funds in its technology account, and that state tuition dollars that would follow each student to the school also include a certain amount for technology.

The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science is seeking to become the first charter school in Maine, under charter school legislation passed by lawmakers last June.

Jaques said school founders hope that by May the Maine Charter School Commission grants them one of the 10 permits allowed by the Legislature over the first 10 years of the charter school program. Jaques said he further expects that lawmakers will adjust the law’s enrollment window — now cemented as a three-week period every January — to allow for schools permitted this spring to accept students for a September 2012 opening.

“I’m encouraged,” Jaques said. “But it will be a tight timeline. It’s basically in the hands of Augusta, now.”

Maine is the 41st state to adopt legislation to allow the schools. The charter school law allows the approval of up to 10 public charter schools in the next 10 years by the Maine State Charter School Commission. In addition, individual public school boards can convert schools within their districts into charter schools, which allows them to create education programs free from some of the restrictions and regulations that apply to public schools.

The latter option is being investigated in Bangor, where the public school district is seeking to establish a specialized STEM high school program within the department.

In Portland, the proposed charter high school is a stand-alone nonprofit organization.

In addition to being able to seek federal grant money set aside to help establish charter schools, the new institutions will be funded by public dollars that follow new students from their traditional school systems. For high school, the state tuition rate per student is about $9,000.

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