Costs could exceed $1 million
Equipping all Gunnison RE1J school district classrooms with 21st century technology is a top priority the district administration has set for the current renovation projects, but it won’t be cheap.
District systems administrator Cannon Leatherwood presented his technology plan to the board of education on Monday, June 8 in six steps. The first three range in price from around $100,000 to nearly $500,000, which will come from the bonds sold by the district in January.
The district’s technology committee has made several trips to other districts in the state that have gone through recent renovations to see what technology they have, as well as what works and what doesn’t.
Leatherwood said, “Some of the pitfalls we saw in other districts forced us to make changes to our long-range plans.” The result of the planning and site visits, he says, is “a solution that ensures network stability, network bandwidth and network security for the administration.”
The first element of the new system will be the infrastructure that will go in as miles of cable and dozens of routers and switches to keep the flow of information moving in the right direction.
The cost of just the materials for that project, spread across four of the district’s school sites, is going to be $197,000 with an additional cost of $20,000 for installation.
But, Leatherwood said that “backbone” would give the district the capacity to operate any technology that might be available to the district in the “foreseeable future,” even with the constantly evolving options.
Roy Blythe, owner of the Blythe Group & Company, which is overseeing the renovation projects, said that the contractors will be installing cable trays to hold all of the new wiring, to allow an easy swap if upgrades become available.
With the infrastructure in place, the next piece Leatherwood hopes to install is a wireless network that will allow people with laptops to access the district’s network in any school building.
Land lines that give classrooms Internet access will also be upgraded to give students exponentially faster Internet access and “unlimited bandwidth in the district’s Local Area Network,” or LAN, which will contain teaching and curriculum material for students to access.
The price tag on having “wireless saturation in every building,” according to Leatherwood: $111,000
The next, and biggest, part of the technological renovation at the district will be the telephone system, or “telephony,” which will help the administration and teachers communicate with each other and parents.
Leatherwood says the new system would replace the district’s entire phone system with one that has a myriad features, like placing automated calls to parents whose children are missing from school or sending emergency messages to all parents in the district and allowing video conferences between schools.
That whole system won’t come right away, but instead will be replaced in pieces. The cost to get the project moving would be almost $290,000. An additional $160,000 would be needed to finish the project sometime next summer.
“It’s really good stuff and I’m excited. It’s exciting to get a group together like we have with the schools and principals and accrue the information about the best practices and putting the best things in place for what’s actually achievable,” said Leatherwood.
The goal of the technology committee is to make the technology that students are so familiar with seamless in the school environment, so there is no need to leave the classroom to access the Internet or LAN.
One way that could be done, Leatherwood suggested, is through technologies like SMARTboards, which are interactive whiteboards, and Qwizdom, which gives students a handheld device that allows them to get instant feedback on tests and quizzes.
Already, Blythe said the architects have provided designs of classrooms that have an arrangement of whiteboards and SMARTboards that allows the integration of other technologies like projectors.
And there has already been some interest among the district faculty in putting Qwizdom to use.
After the technology has been installed, all teachers will be required to go through professional development to teach them how to integrate the available technology into their teaching, which is something Leatherwood said other schools have failed to do—the result is a lot of wasted money.
“The goal is having the technology in the classroom and it’s been integrated with the teachers and it’s not a hindrance,” he said. “Some will embrace it more than others, but in the end it’s all going to be there and it’s all going to be utilized, because teachers will see how seamless it can be with day-to-day classroom activities.”
Despite all the options that are available to Leatherwood and the technology committee, they understand that some of the things being offered will be obsolete before the district has recovered its investment.
Leatherwood said, “So let’s not focus on all the brand new, wiz-bang shiny objects you can get right now—look at securing your whole infrastructure so you’re able to support anything that can be conceived in the future.”