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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Canyons District to go 1:1 on devices to secondary students, extends service of existing computers

Nov 17, 2020 11:37AM ● By Julie Slama

Computers are regularly upgraded in Canyons District schools, but often older models are reused for years before being surplused. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For more than a decade, Brighton High Principal Tom Sherwood has consulted technology experts at Canyons School District, gaining insight before making decisions on how best to keep computers updated at his school.

Like other schools, Brighton High is on a five-year rotation, where Sherwood has the choice to purchasing new desktops in labs or yearly ordering about 500 new Chromebooks at roughly the same price – $100,000. This past spring, he decided to order enough devices so every one of his 2,200 students can check out a Chromebook for the year.

“It becomes more fiscally responsible to provide a Chromebook checked out to each student, and now with the onset of COVID and online learning, it is more a necessity,” he said in early October after receiving a shipment of devices he ordered last spring.

However, he is keeping computer labs for some classes and programs where they’re needed such as multimedia, coding, computer programming, computer-aided drafting, yearbook and others and will continue to update those computers every five years.

But what happens to the school’s old computers?

Sherwood said after he checks throughout his high school to see if there is a use for them, he reaches out to middle and elementary schools and transfers the assets.

“By the time five years passes, many of them are obsolete and can’t make it worthwhile to replace operating systems, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value,” he said. 

Director of Information Technology Scot McCombs agrees: “We just kind of do that trickle-down model. We target students and staff and as it (the device) loses its value, we try to trickle it down to another location where we can still get some use out of it.”

McCombs said now that every student in the district is online learning on Fridays after the recent Canyons Board of Education decision, he is looking to use those Chromebooks and computers now more than ever.

“Right now, we’re trying to come up with 500 devices for our special education students to do a virtual meeting between them and their teachers,” he said. “These 500 devices are a good example of us not having to necessarily needing to buy new devices for this purpose, because the requirements are pretty simple, it doesn’t take a ton to do a virtual meeting. So, if we can find a device to do that, and it may not do anything else, but if it can do that, then we’re serving the district as best as possible.”

For those secondary schools that are not already 1:1 with a device, the district placed an order of almost 3,000 Chromebooks – expected to arrive in November – to ensure all students at the eight middle and six high schools will have a Chromebook checked out to them, he said. 

The $600,000 funding for that purchase comes from the district’s technology fund, Canyons Education Foundation and the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), which is federal funding provided to the district through grants that need to be used by the end of the calendar year. 

“At this time in education from us moving from in-person to online to our two-week dismissals, based on quarantine, making sure that every student has a device is really essential,” he said. “The supply chain is just so slow right now. In the past, we’d order Chromebooks, we’d have them in six weeks. Well, now, it’s almost six months, if not longer. While we recognize the Chromebook is not the perfect device, it does more of what we need than anything else.”

While many of the students and teachers are using the newer devices, McCombs said that the district is using 10-year-old devices that are kept updated and in working condition in other areas.

“We use technology much longer than industry would or much longer than people would in their homes. We truly don’t have enough money to buy all the technology we need,” he said, adding that his team tries to find creative ways to fund technology for the district.

In elementary schools, there are still computers in labs that are being used for coding and video editing. Those are rotated out of the lab every five years at a cost of $60,000, McCombs said. Those older computers may be used in classrooms or in the media center. 

Or if the school principal opts not to update its lab with new computers, McCombs offers the alternative – replacing a Chromebook cart of 30 devices every year for five years, which is about the same amount of money.

On top of that, every four years, a mobile lab is updated, which is either Chromebooks or iPads, he said.

The middle school computer labs are usually geared for career and technology and STEM classes and are replaced typically every five years, he said. The middle school students are using Chromebooks from carts until the new shipment arrives and they will be 1:1 with devices.

What happens with the outdated computers that are no longer useful?

Simply put by Sherwood: “We keep computers in the district as long as possible, but at some point, they are wiped clean and go to the state surplus or the public auction.”

McCombs explains that after wiping the devices of student data, it’s up to the warehouse staff to collect and surplus the computers.

“Our rotation is let’s get as much life out of these devices as we can and then when they no longer have value, that’s when we turn around and surplus them. By the time, those devices actually make it to surplus, there is so little value in them that very seldom does someone wants to buy them,” McCombs said. “Nobody wants to buy a 10-year-old computer.”

He estimates only 5 to 10% of the district’s computers go to surplus, and most of those can’t be upgraded with a current operating system. They also are cleared of their programs so those purchasing the computers would have to buy a license and install their own programs. 

The funds from devices that are sold goes back to the district’s general funds that will feed back into the system, he said.

The district server and teacher laptops are shred with metal shredders.

Some of the older devices that require a higher power consumption and more support from the district technology staff are the ones that tend to make it to surplus, he said.

“As we try to balance this, it’s kind of the pendulum, the weight we have to put on it. Are we spending more to support this device than what it’s worth? And that goes back to value…looking at costs, uses, energy consumption, support cost, we’re constantly looking at getting the value out of the device we can,” he said. “The mantra of the district is we use it and if it doesn’t have value for that person anymore, we see if there’s another person who can use it. Our idea is to just use it, reuse it, and finding new and creative ways to still get value out of it. And finally, when we do surplus it, it really is out of its prime and it really shouldn’t have any real value left.”

On the public surplus site,, there also are items available from mannequins to school buses.