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Principal Charles Gregory stacks up some laptops. Anniston High School has received a shipment of 512 Chromebooks for distribution to students and staff. School officials will be opening up the computers and cataloguing them Tuesday for distribution to students next week. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Anniston High School’s exhaustive quest to have school-issued laptop computers for its students has ended, thankfully and finally. The Chromebooks arrived this week. Students should get them next week. If you hear a teenage cheer rise up from Woodstock Avenue, that’s likely why.

But any celebration should be tempered, if only momentarily, by a review of how Anniston’s only public high school got to this point in the first place.

It’s simple, really; it starts and stops with leadership.

Money matters, of course. It’s the fuel on which most things run. But other communities and school systems in Calhoun County years ago realized the need for students to have 24/7 access to laptops and internet access. Modern realities make that a necessity.

Those systems did this in varying ways, some with grant money or corporate programs, others through their own funding. In Piedmont — a small city with limited resources and a small sales-tax base — everything came together: a computer-savvy superintendent, school board and politicians who teamed to make their public schools an Alabama model for the integration of technology in the classroom.

If that can happen in Piedmont, Ala., it can happen anywhere.

Anniston, though, sits on years of political dysfunction, thanks mostly to an argumentative and racially divided City Council. Different versions of its Board of Education have struggled with vital decisions like school consolidation, which, if done correctly, could improve the system’s finances and possibly create revenue for things like, oh, laptop computers. In Piedmont, all forces pulled long enough in the same direction to alter the future of their city’s schools and, more importantly, their students.

Laptop-wise, a similar effort has never materialized in Anniston, and that fault rests at the feet of a roster of school board members, school administrators and politicians. The laptops are at Anniston High today largely because of outside funding from the 2003 Monsanto PCBs settlement. Without that assistance, we can’t help but wonder when AHS would have issued laptops to its students, if ever.

That said, we also caution AHS administrators and parents of Anniston students that laptops are not a Utopian solution. Everything that’s needed to be a success in school — qualified teachers, capable administrators, involved parents and students willing to put in the work — remains on the table. Laptops only augment and assist, a tool for a student’s toolbox.

What’s more, an increasing number of researchers now believe laptops in the classroom hinder learning because students pay more attention to the technology and less on what’s being taught. Two years ago, The Washington Post reported on three separate studies with reputable findings of negative aspects of classroom laptops. From our view, that seems a bit harsh, but, if anything, it illustrates the previous point — that laptops are only one tool at students’ disposal.

Next week will be a grand time for Anniston High students. Their excitement is deserved. We hope this is one step of many the city’s schools will take toward a brighter future.

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