By Maureen Robertson
Days of students using pencils to fill in the bubbles on paper tests from the state are over. School districts instead are preparing to use computers for the state’s new Measure of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) exams in the spring.
While Ramona teachers are focusing on Common Core State Standards in language arts and math, Keith Wright and his crew in the district’s Information and Education Systems department are working on a plan to upgrade technology infrastructure to increase bandwidth and prepare for wireless connections among the schools and between the district office and schools.
School trustees supported his request to spend $225,000 — or 19 percent — of the nearly $2 million the state gave
the district to implement the new academic standards called common core.
“These changes are going to allow the teachers and the students within this district to move forward with the resources available on the Internet in a way we can’t do now,” Wright said.
None of the money will be spent on computers, said Wright, telling trustees that decisions will come later about types of devices to purchase: Chromebooks, iPads, Netbooks, laptops, or other online options available.
“What we’re talking about today is the freeway,” said Wright. “We’re not talking about the cars on the freeway. We’re looking to build that framework to allow us to grow and to grow into this common core or state testing. That’s the direction we’re going to go.”
Existing conditions do not allow teachers and students to take advantage of all the Internet devices they have.
“Right now, if a teacher wants to teach in her classroom, they have to announce, OK everybody, get out your phones and turn off your Internet, because nobody will be able to get on,” said trustee Rodger Dohm, noting the value of wireless connectivity.
“Or they get on and it’s really slow,” said Wright.
The district has a Bring Your Own Device policy and students are coming to school with iPads, laptops, smartphones and other devices, “and they should technically be able to use it on our network,” Wright said, adding “We try to discourage that because we can’t support that flood of bandwidth usage.”
The infrastructure upgrades will remedy that, he said.
“We’ve been able to move a lot of things off our network into the cloud (Internet),” he said. “The cost of that is we need bandwidth.”
The district experiences network slowness daily, particularly about 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., “because we have so much stuff going on at those times,” he said.
To make use of a San Diego State University donation of about $300,000 worth of Cisco switches, the district must spend about $30,000 for a Cisco engineer to program the switches and for cabling and other equipment, Wright said.
He estimates the cost to increase network bandwidth at $92,000, hardware costs for wireless connectivity at $61,400, and installation cost at $42,000. Installation estimates from vendors were as high as $76,000, which was more than the district wanted to spend, so employees in his department and the maintenance department will do as much of the work as they can, he said.
In his report to the board, Wright said the upgrades will prepare the district for MAPP testing in the spring, allow more mobile device use, and allow the district to take advantage of other network opportunities such as a digital phone system.
In a related vote at the meeting, trustees authorized the district to seek bids for a digital phone system.