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Superintendent Pitches Technology Improvements

Crisfield hopes to get $1.9 million in technology upgrades, including a better network and bandwidth for the schools.

The Millburn School District’s current state of technology is woefully behind, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield told the Board of Education Monday night when he made his case for spending $1.9 million on technology upgrades in next year’s budget.

In a PowerPoint presentation, he pointed out what he called a brutal fact: “Our network isn’t even close to providing our students with what they need to acquire and hone 21st Century skills.”

Millburn’s lagging behind is due in part to a slow network that crashes easily and often becomes a frustrating exercise for teachers and students when trying to access information on the Internet. That results in a reluctance to use new and innovative technological ideas, he said.

In trying to show the upside of a working network, Crisfield used the recent example of the Hartshorn School connecting to troops in Afghanistan on, when only two schools were in session.

The reason it worked so well, he said, was because it was a day off for everyone else, freeing up the network and making it run smoothly for a full 20 minutes.

Indeed, when Patch was at when all schools were in session, the connection was slow and would freeze up and the soldiers were blurry on the big screen. But on Monday, those problems didn't exist.

At the time, principal Ron Castaldo said he was glad they were not going to be trying to do it on a day when all the schools were up and running because the school system’s network just can’t handle it.

Crisfield told the board and a crowded audience at the Education Center on Monday night that the two main problem areas are insufficient capacity and unreliable wireless access.

To get the access and to help “close the gap between how students live and how they learn in school,” Crisfield is proposing the $1.9 million technology budget, which includes $580,000 for the network and $85,000 for bandwidth and recurring costs for replacing 20 percent of the equipment every year so that the district will not be left with computers that are more than five years old.

Part of the reason why the costs are so high is that the district has not kept up with technology in the last several years, Crisfield said in response to questions from residents about the need for such a large budget. Although the board had allocated funds for technological upgrades in the past, that money often was transferred to pay for something else or got rolled over into the budget surplus that the district carried over from year to year, he said.

Now the server is “aging out,” Crisfield said.

The district has been buying equipment – including laptops, desktops, iPads and SMART boards, and will still be able to use those, he said.

“The difference is being able to use the equipment we have to its fullest potential,” he sadi.

Millburn High School Senior Matt Taylor, who records the meetings for HomeTowne TV, applauded the plan and reiterated that the current network is extremely frustrating for students and teachers.

As a student in film classes, he said, the most frustrating part has been the inability to access YouTube from the school, not only for watching educational or instructional videos but for students “unable share our work with the world.”

“It’s been an annoyance,” he said. “If we want to embed a YouTube video into our work, we have to work around it by loading it up at home. There’s a lot of great content on YouTube that’s instructional.”

He added that he even uses videos from an educational site in his preparation for midterms.

The Board of Education will decide on the technology piece of the budget as the overall budget process continues.

In his presentation, Crisfield said that the budget will be adopted on April 17 and the administration will place the order the next day, on April 18, because he wants work to start July 1 and the network up and running by Sept. 1.

“The delays have to stop,” he said.

Acton January 24, 2012 at 02:38 PM
IMO, YouTube should not be generally accessible in school. Limited access in classes like a film class, should be OK, but not free access across the entire network.
newleaf January 24, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Acton--so wrong! I recently taught our daughter about the rotation of the moon/sun/earth using a model from You Tube. The reality is that You Tube now is one of the largest publishers of FREE educational videos. You cannot imagine how much useful material is in that website. To deny our kids access is to overlook a very resourceful and easy way to reach students and graphically illustrate concepts, ideas and history in a more meaningful way.
M.Moore January 24, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I agree, newleaf, Khan Academy (a fantastic resource) has a great Youtube channel.
Carolyn Most January 25, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Why do we need our own server? Why not outsource as so many leading enterprises do? We should not be in the IT business. In fact, why don't we outsource the whole thing and do a service based contract deal that will spread the costs out more evenly on an annual basis, not require the district but the provider to worry about ongoing technology upgrades, and ensure that we have 24/7 service, maintenance, etc.
Carolyn Most January 25, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Here is an example - Dell and the Keller Integrated School District ( Texas district of 33,000) announced the district’s move to Dell’s managed IT support services instead of providing their own services internally. Not only are applications and web-enabled services now hosted on Dell’s cloud, but email and infrastructure services are also handled by Dell. Dell is also now providing desk-side tech support, remote support, engineering services, and technology consultation for the district. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/education/dell-and-your-school-district-when-outsourcing-isnt-a-tv-show/4507 Educators and staff have access to 24/7 helpdesk and desk-side support, as well as email support, helping to address reduced budgets and helping prevent learning from being interrupted due to technology challenges. They will also have upgraded storage management and network management capabilities designed to increase an efficient enterprise, enabling Keller ISD to focus more time on the classroom. For about the same amount of money they were spending, Keller can now provide highly available, anytime, anywhere services to its staff. Where, as Joe Griffin, CTO for the district, said that they were previously working at full capacity to simply “keep things running,” now remaining IT staff can transition to roles that focus on teaching and learning and innovative use of technology in the classroom. Brushfires have been replaced by innovation and improved instructional practices.

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