The Wilson County Board of Education heard from assistant superintendent Mickey Hall during a work session Saturday morning dubbed as the potential future of area schools.
Though the $2 million annual increase still has to be approved by the Wilson County Commission, Hall said the three-year plan has the potential to increase wireless Internet connectivity at schools and offer technological improvements for students.
According to Hall, students currently have computer labs, two mobile computer carts per school and response systems in classrooms. Teachers have workstations with projectors.
Hall said the new plan would increase wireless data transfer from 100 megabytes per second to 1 gigabyte per second at each school and offer each student mobile devices. He said over the next three years, teachers would get portable desktop computers, interactive whiteboards and controlled student devices that would offer immediate student response, assessment and visual collaboration. Students would get mobile tablet devices.
Hall gave an example of an experiment when school officials handed out 20 devices to fourth-graders recently straight out of the box. He said one student put together a Power Point presentation on the human body.
“It wasn't an assignment,” Hall said. “He just did it because he had something in his hands.”
Hall said the proposed plan is to get 5,500 student devices and 400 teacher devices on lease each year during the next three years. In the terms of the lease, the devices would be replaced every three years.
According to Hall, the cost breakdown would include $271,000 per year for infrastructure, $1.16 million for devices and $800,000 next year and $720,000 during the next two years for additional staff.
“Every third year you are refreshing your technology, and that's something that has to happen,” Hall said.
Hall also said the plan offers added security not in place currently.
“This keeps it where we can manage our network and manage our devices,” Hall said. “We had a student who brought something in on a thumbdrive that nearly crippled our network. That's a constant battle we have to fight.”
Hall said the plan would create several new jobs in technology specialists, technicians, network engineers and technology communications specialists who would provide training.
“That's why we're here; to give our students good, quality instruction to prepare them for college,” Hall said.
Hall said the timing is right for the plan since the state requires each school to be ready for online testing by the 2014-15 school year with the implementation of Common Core and Partnership for Assessment in Readiness for College and Careers programs. He said schools would get just a four-week window for those tests twice a year.
“You've got to have the technology and bandwidth for all the students to take the test at the same time, otherwise you have to stagger it,” said Tim Setterlund, who attended his first board meeting in person Saturday and will become the new director of schools Monday.
Hall invited Eric Brown, state program director for PARCC tech readiness and Putnam County Board of Education member, to give his assessment of the proposed plan in Wilson County.
“PARCC is a little bit behind in everything they are doing,” Brown said. “We are as ready as we can with what has been given us. PARCC is dealing with some challenges at this point, but I believe they are going to hit the mark. This is a dramatic change that's never been done. The state is ready to go. We are just waiting on the next part to come from PARCC.
“PARCC is one small piece to the puzzle. PARCC is the thing that is going to replace TCAP. It would be a crime if we do something like this for a twice-a-year assessment. Instructional value should drive every purchase you make. E- books is a discussion everyone is going to have in the next two to three years.
“The money and process you are looking at right now is proactive and is going to be cheaper than if you wait to the last minute. I cannot tell you how important that rotation piece is; otherwise you find yourself making panic purchases every couple of years. The money we are spending now is a lot less than what we would if we panic later.”
“We've got to get them on these devices doing their daily work,” he said. “Otherwise, they are going to get to the test, see that device and freak out. They won't know what to do.
“Students should use technology on an everyday basis so they will feel comfortable taking the tests online.”
Following the presentation, board chairman Don Weathers asked Hall to put together a cost comparison between PARCC minimums and the plan he proposed. Brown said he would make himself available to pitch the plan to the commission with the added expenses.
“We are not just doing this for PARCC; we are doing this for our kids,” Hall said. “We have to figure out whether we are going to do the minimums or if we are going to put a device in the hands of every child.”
Hall said he’d have the cost comparison available for the board to review by its July 8 regular meeting. The board will meet at 6 p.m. at the Central Office on Stumpy Lane in Lebanon.