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Referendum: Why We Need New School Technology
On March 11, Verona voters will be asked to approve a referendum to fund much-needed improvements to our public school buildings, facilities, security and technology. We’ve written a lot about the first three, but it’s important for voters to understand what the fourth is all about too. The technology infrastructure of Verona schools is 10 years old. When the Verona school computer network was built, technology was an add-on, and wireless was a novelty. Our network foundation is on the verge of crashing, and without the necessary upgrades our schools will stay in 2004.
Under the proposed $16.6 million referendum, $889,086 will be spent on technology. That sounds like a lot of money, but Verona hasn’t made a major investment in school technology in 10 years, even as residents added smartphones and WiFi to their homes. The tech spending would replace the network built in 2003, upgrade the school phone system, add a back-up generator and network back-up, and institute district-wide WiFi, among other things. Specifically, we need things like switches and cables to connect every school building to the new network and we need a back-up system to keep school materials safe during a power outage.
The bulk of the tech spending–$500,000–will go for a new technology backbone, which Cindy Costanza, district technology manager for Verona’s public schools, likened to upgrading an electrical panel when installing central air conditioning in our homes. The existing panel turns on the lights, but adding an air conditioning unit would blow the whole fuse box. Teachers have been incorporating technology in the classrooms to prepare our students for the growing future of technology, engineering and science careers, but are limited in what can be accomplished. We need a bigger backbone.
“What is being replaced works today, but is at end of life, and cannot support the projected increases in network demand,” says Costanza. “We have reached capacity for what we can do.” In the simplest of terms, this means that we cannot add another computer, printer, projector, or move to wireless devices in the classroom without making this investment.
Although many of us grew up learning in classrooms with chalkboards, the modern classroom relies on interactive “smart” boards. These boards allow teachers to project lessons created on their computers just like you’d show a movie on a screen. This visual learning enhances text book content and encourages collaboration and group discussion among students.
A generation ago, homework was completed alone, on paper, and handed in. In the modern classroom, students work on group projects while collaborating from individual home computers. Their work is submitted via the internet using services like Google Drive, SkyDrive or Dropbox; something the techies call the “cloud.” But to save documents to the cloud, and access them from the modern classroom, a network is needed. Verona’s network cannot handle all of our students using the cloud.
Verona parents and grandparents took tests with paper and pencil. Starting next school year, all New Jersey students will have to take a standardized test called the PARCC, which can only be taken on a computer. Verona needs to have a network that can support 2,500 users, which would cover students, teachers and administrators. We don’t have that kind of network now, and without it we cannot even add the computers required for testing.
The money budgeted in the referendum will cover what is needed to make the technology backbone stronger. It will not cover additional computers, printers, computer labs, or educational software. Those expenses will eventually be required but without this improvement in the back bone, the second steps will not be possible. In a recent announcement from President Obama, there is a plan in place with the FCC to upgrade all public schools with wireless access. He continued by saying, “In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools.”
Most of us would not consider using a 10-year-old computer, and willingly upgrade to a new phone every two years if not sooner. Smart televisions, smart phones and tablets that can pick up a wireless signal from almost anywhere are part of our everyday lives. In a world of Wikipedia, Google searches and Siri, we are fairly well connected, and this is where the disconnect between school and home exists. According to Rich Wertz, a math and technology teacher at Verona High School, “technology at home is leapfrogging what’s in schools.”
Over the next few weeks, MyVeronaNJ.com will tell you more about what’s being done with the limited technology in our schools, so our readers can see what could be possible for all students to have once the referendum is approved. Superintendent Steven A. Forte will be holding four meetings to answer questions about the referendum. They will be held on Sunday, February 23 at 5 p.m. at VHS; Wednesday, February 26 at 9 a.m. at FN Brown; Saturday, March 1 at 10 a.m. at Laning; and Wednesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at HBW.
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