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Gainesville schools need better Wi-Fi, more tablets, tech director says

POSTED: December 22, 2013 11:30 p.m.

Fair Street School students Joshua Luis, 11, left, and Steven Nunez, 12, work Wednesday on Kuno tablets during the guided reading class. The devices allow students to more easily access work and have tests graded faster. Students who need extra help can work with applications that help them understand the subject matter.

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Gainesville City Schools are in need of upgraded technology, but getting everything they want may be too costly.

Director of Technology Keith Palmer originally appeared before the board in November to present an update on Fair Street School’s technology. The elementary school opened for students in October, and has been held up as the technological model for other schools in the city system.

From that meeting, Palmer pulled together a plan that would bring all city schools up to Fair Street’s technology level, a plan that would cost $6 million.

The goal would be for all Gainesville students to be issued individual tablet devices as they are at Fair Street — each student receives a Kuno tablet that teachers use to upload lessons and educational apps. That’s where the bulk of the $6 million would come in, Palmer said.

In the meantime, there are many steps the system can take to upgrade facilities, Palmer said. The first needs to be an upgrade of all wireless access points.

"We’re having to throttle our bring-your-own-device (policy) at this point," Palmer said. "We’re having about 1,000 devices a day that are not ours but are student devices, most of them here (at Gainesville High School). We’re having to throttle that back because it’s interfering with our system-owned devices."

All schools have had access to wireless Internet for about eight years, and for a while that worked well for teachers using their school-supplied laptops. But as more and more students bring their own laptops, tablets and phones to connect to the network, it’s becoming more difficult to access.

"Every single classroom at Fair Street has its own wireless access point," Palmer said. "The entire class of students can connect at one time, and their connecting does not adversely affect the students in the classroom next door."

At the Dec. 16 school board meeting, it was brought up that increasing wireless access would allow for more online classes and testing.

"Right now, I wouldn’t think to try (online testing) with the wireless that we have currently," Palmer said. "For instance, we have carts of iPads ... trouble is when we roll that cart, you pull 30 of these devices out into an area, that area may not be able to handle that many devices (for online access).

"It’s one thing if you’re surfing the Web and you lose connection. You go back to it and nobody knows. But if you’re taking an online assessment, it can mess up."

Upgrading the access points would eliminate those problems. And along with increasing wireless access, Palmer would also like to put in interactive classroom projectors teachers could use. The total cost for those projects is $1.6 million, much more feasible than the total cost of $6 million.

Palmer also pointed out the cost could look very different in just a few years.

"I kept this long-range plan as simple as I could, and realizing that the dollar figures presented are current costs," he said. "Who knows what those costs might be in years to come?"

Before moving forward, Chairwoman Maria Calkins asked for school principals to hand in their "wish lists" as they begin strategic planning early in 2014.

"I would be interested (in) the perspective of the people who are managing these departments and schools," she said. "Where does this fit in on their priority list? Do they need textbooks for teachers or furlough days or this technology? There are so many important things."


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