Barrington Schools tech goal: a computer for every student

Technology Director Katie Miller, shown here in a server room at Barrington High School. Technology Director Katie Miller, shown here in a server room at Barrington High School.

Technology Director Katie Miller, shown here in a server room at Barrington High School.

In a perfect world, Barrington Public Schools Technology Director Katie Miller believes every local student in grades 4 and up would have a laptop or tablet to use in school and at home from late August through mid-June.

However, today’s ratios of computers to students is far cry from Ms. Miller’s goal, and it’s not clear whether local taxpayers will be willing to fund such an investment in the future.

Sowams and Nayatt schools have one computer for every nine students while Primrose Hill has one computer for every 11 students. The ratio is better at Hampden Meadows School, where there is one computer for every six students.

Barrington High School has one computer for every five students and the middle school has one computer for every four students, but these ratios are a bit misleading. Without special purpose devices — computers used specifically for music or certain design processes — the high school ratio changes to 10 to 1 and the middle school ratio changes to 7 to 1.

The vast majority of these mobile computers at the high school and middle school are grant-funded, which means they are not slated for replacement at any set period of time.

Ms. Miller presented this information to the Barrington School Committee at a recent meeting as part of an update on the district’s current standing with technology as a whole.

Ms. Miller said local educators have never been more eager to expand upon the use of technology. She said upcoming requirements, such as the implementation of an online assessment in the 2014-15 school year, have created an unprecedented urgency for making sure laptops, tablets and whatever the future may hold are readily available for students and teachers.

Funding

Increasing the use of technology in Barrington schools will cost taxpayers.

Ms. Miller said that while technology was formerly funded as a capital expense, recent replacement cycles have been funded through surplus money that will likely not be available this year.

Ms. Miller presented three options for moving forward with technology — 1. status quo, 2. a big leap and 3. a middle path.

The status quo maintains level funding staff along with increased internet bandwidth. The status quo also calls for $150,000 of capital funds for one replacement cycle of current devices and servers in addition to a consolidation of the district’s head-end — a series of servers that operate all in-district applications, such as e-mail.

The big leap calls for implementation of one device for every student in grades 4 to 12, while the middle path calls for a deferred implementation of the same ratio.

Ms. Miller said that while she believes the community understands the importance of technology in modern education she isn’t sure of the willingness to make a “big leap.”

The question in every scenario is funding.

Ms. Miller said the presentation was aimed at fostering a discussion on technology. She said this year’s message is centered on the ever-strengthening connection between curriculum and instruction at every grade level in every content area.

The district’s current technology plan identifies goals and strategies around five areas spelled out in the National Education Technology Plan, which was adopted locally in 2000. These areas center on learning, assessment and teaching, to name a few, though none of these can be addressed without addressing infrastructure needs.

In the meantime, curriculum development is moving forward with technology integration. Ms. Miller said once a path is selected a comprehensive plan should be developed.

Plans are also in the works to develop a district technology advisory subcommittee charged with understanding the challenge of bringing new technology to local schools and preparing for communication with the public.

Three technology options

The technology director identified three potential paths for moving forward with technology in local schools:

- The status quo: Level-funding of software and staff and increased internet bandwidth along with consolidation of the district’s head-end, expanded wireless access and one replacement cycle of devices and servers.

- The big leap: The status quo plus the development of a 5-year comprehensive plan to support the introduction of one device for every student in grades 4 through 12.

- The middle path: The status quo plus the replacement of classroom computers with portable devices for teachers and the development of a 5-year plan to support the introduction of one device for every student in grades 4 to 12 with deferred implementation. Additionally, increased available technology to support online assessment.

Capital requests for technology

The school district has forwarded its capital request to the town’s capital improvement committee. The request includes about $150,000 for next year’s technology replacement cycle along with an expenditure of between $180,000 and $420,000 to fund what is needed for implementing a new online assessment and/or a move toward the 1:1 student to mobile technology device ratio.

What is the head-end?

The head-end is a series of servers that operate all in-district applications, such as e-mail. Currently, the head-end for Barrington schools is primarily housed at the middle school. Technology director Katie Miller said this setup presents some concerns, including an unreliable generator and the middle school’s low-lying area. The site is also scheduled for major construction or renovation in coming years. Ms. Miller said the best move would be to consolidate the head-end with servers at the central office. The move would reportedly require some upfront, one-time costs though it would likely have long-term software savings. Ms. Miller said it would also allow for further collaboration with the town’s municipal IT services.

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