There are inherent issues with a technological world. There will always come a time when an upgrade is needed, and that is what the USD 353 Board of Education spent nearly $300,000 on last week.
The BOE unanimously approved a bid from Twotrees Technologies, LLC for a complete renovation to the district's technology infrastructure. Before voting, the Board listened to an overview from Jerry Hodson, USD 353 Curriculum, Technology and Grounds administrator.
"Twotrees has cheaper prices for the hardware and installation," Hodson told the BOE. There were some elements not included in the bid that involve costs that won't be known until the time comes to plug it all in.
"What we're talking about it is the configuration and installation of the servers," Hodson continued. "Taking what's on our current servers and putting it on the new ones, and making sure all those links work. That can be very, very time consuming and difficult." All of this will be done this summer, starting from the ground, up.
"One of the main decisions we had to make was what kind of servers we were going to use," Hodson said. "The one we chose was a system called blade servers. What that allows us to do, if at some point we start to get full, we just slide another one in, and expand." The upgrades will allow teachers to further utilize the internet in the classroom.
"Right now, we block everything, whether it has any educational value or not," Hodson said. "We've got a lot of teachers now that we're pushing to expand what they do in the classroom with technology, and they get frustrated because when they get ready to do it, they can't." With the upgrade, administrators and teachers would be able to access more of the internet, while, at the same time, restrictions would apply to students' access.
Hodson added that the math curriculum is being re-worked, and YouTube, a website that is currently blocked, could be a key element in plans moving forward.
"One of the resources out there is a program called Khan Academy, it's free– costs us nothing," Hodson explained. "I have teachers at the high school that would absolutely love to be able to use it with the kids, but the way we have our current filtering system set up, it blocks YouTube, so they can't get to it." Board Member, Maria Cornejo, asked how this upgrade will hold up as the years progress.
"For me to set here and say what's going to happen in five years, I don't know," Hodson answered. "But I will say I'm pretty confident in what we're dealing with right now to get us through the foreseeable future, unless there's a dramatic shift."
"This is a good infrastructure that they're putting in place," Board Member, Angie Ratcliff said. "It will allow for things to open up." USD 353 Superintendent, Rick Weiss talked about why it's taken longer than usual for such an upgrade.
Page 2 of 2 - "The reason why it looks like this data situation has ended the way it has, is not because it was purposefully ignored, or we weren't aware of the lack of what we didn't have," Weiss said at the meeting. "It was because we had to restore some financial order to the house to be able to do those things, not because we didn't want to do them." He said there's a good reason why it hasn't been done, and why it's being done now.
"At this point in time it's more feasible for us to make these purchases than it was four or five years ago when a million dollars was going out the door to pay for early retirement and lease-purchases," Weiss said. The total amount approved by the BOE during the April meeting was $293,591.
"We've already doubled our bandwidth and paid less for it now, because we reconfigured...," Hodson said.
"On one of the listening tours, a couple of teachers at the middle school were talking about not being able to do a couple of things because of compatibility as well...that's addressed in this too," Cornejo pointed out. "We're getting people the resources they need." The new technology opens a lot of doors for local educators.
"I think you're seeing a shift in the dynamics of how we educate our kids, to understanding that the days of giving them a book and saying 'okay, read this,' are gone," Hodson said.