Archive for Thursday, February 10, 2005

Technology schedule accelerated

February 10, 2005

Thin client technology in every De Soto school and the $2 million price tag to put it there -- both should arrive sooner rather than later after the Board of Education voted Monday to speed up the district's technology time line.

At the recommendation of technology director Ben Crosier -- as well as several teachers, principals and administrators -- Board members voted 5-1 to bump up thin client installation to all schools by August of this year instead of expanding one building at a time into 2006.

Pre-vote Board discussion also addressed the district's long-term technology plan.

Don Clark voted against accelerating the time line, saying he wanted more information about post-implementation hardware costs.

Jim Plummer was absent.

Thin client is a generic name for a system architecture that enables remote navigation of the district's database. Much like cables can connect a group of office computers to one in-building server, thin client can link all computers districtwide to a common, online database.

The system enables users to access lesson plans, homework, software and feedback from any computer with Internet access.

The $2 million cost would include expanding the district data center to handle a large number of users, licenses for all new users and installing Windows XP on existing school computers, Crosier said. The cost would not include any new hardware for schools.

The previous technology time line scheduled installations in different schools at a pace meant to allow time to work out any glitches that came up, Crosier said. Prairie Ridge opened in August with the technology, and De Soto and Mill Valley high schools were added in the fall.

If the district had chosen not to accelerate the schedule, the immediate cost would have been $1 million, and only Lexington Trails and Monticello Trails middle schools would have been added by January 2006.

Crosier said installation and training was going smoothly so far and that educators from updated schools loved the new system.

Prairie Ridge teachers Kara Tramp and Shelee Brim said the system allowed them to grade and plan lessons from home, with their families and on their own time.

"No more all-nighters at school to finish grade cards," Brim said.

Tramp said that ability also freed up instructional time to be used for students instead of catch-up.

"Parents are e-mailing me all the time, which is awesome," Tramp said. "I come to school pretty much every day with my e-mail caught up."

De Soto High School principal David Morford said his staff was lucky to have the technology, and Lexington Trails Middle School principal Mark Schmidt said his teachers couldn't wait until it was their turn.

From an instructional standpoint, secondary curriculum coordinator Bret Church said using thin client to distribute curriculum to teachers would be consistent and accessible.

By getting a go-ahead from the Board this week, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said the district could take advantage of upcoming March staff development days to train all teachers to use the technology.

If staff could handle a batch installation, the district would be best served by getting all schools to the point where they could move ahead together, said Board president Rick Walker.

"It's all about access," he said. "Whatever path we're going to take, this building block has got to be in place."

Zoellner said the cost would come from existing bond money set aside for technology.

"We have that money at hand right now," she said. "So it's not issuing new debt."

The $2 million will be deducted from $8.6 million allotted for technology in the district's most recent $76 million bond issue, which passed in November 2002.

Clark questioned whether early installation would leave the district with more ensuing costs beyond its means.

"Bottom line, we've got to be able to afford this," he said, asking for assurance that installing thin client early wouldn't force the district to follow up with more applications than the budget allowed.

Crosier said the district wouldn't save money by speeding up installation. However, he said thin client is the foundation for the whole technology system so the money would be spent later anyway. Since it is Internet-enabled, it can be used on existing hardware but also be used by whatever kind of hardware the future makes available.

"The system is agile enough to go whatever direction the industry takes," Crosier said.

De Soto's current long-term plan began with a goal of a one-to-one ratio of students to computers.

Board member Bill Waye said the goal shifted because the district realized that was no longer feasible or, more importantly, necessary.

"In my mind, we've progressed rightfully away from one-to-one," he said. "What it really is about is access. The better we are at making that available, the less we rely on having to have huge quantities of devices."

As technology -- including at-home access -- becomes more relied upon, the district must provide access for students who don't have it or can't afford it at home, said Sandy Thierer.

"What steps are we taking to assist families who don't have Internet at home?" she said. "We certainly don't want those students not to have the same access."

Zoellner said staff had discussed that issue and brainstormed ideas like offering after-school computer availability, taking advantage of donated computers, or working with the Johnson County library to provide students with Internet time.

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