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Bedford Central Schools Unveils Three-Year Tech Plan

Digital citizenship and technological access are some of the things officials hope the plan will address for their students.

In three years, officials plan to have a roadmap for their technological needs that is reliable, makes technology available to all of their students and promotes technological understanding and ethics.

David Gee, the district’s director of technology, highlighted the details of the technology plan during Wednesday’s school board meeting.

The plan, which would begin during the next school year and would be fully implemented by 2014, was made under direction of an advisory committee whose membership included Dr. Eric Karle, a member of the school board, along with teachers, staff, parents and students.

Gee said the district has been implementing three-year technology plans since 1994, but those plans showed little variation in the past. Districts were required to submit technology plans to the state in order to qualify for federal funding for telecommunications and Internet access.

“Several months ago, actually, as I was sending the first draft of the completed tech plan out to the committee, they changed the rules and we are no longer required to submit for approval for e-rate funding,” Gee said.

The latest  plan represents a change in philosophy and direction, according to Gee.

“Because of that different distinction, and like I said, the tech plan has pretty much been the same since 1994, we really decided to take a totally fresh approach and rethink the plan from scratch instead of looking to do a re-write,” Gee said.  

One of the key differences between all the old plans and new document is that the district will now focus of the specific learning needs of each classroom before planning purchases. Earlier plans would focus on the amount of technology in classroom, but leave little direction as to what the equipment was needed for.

The plan focuses on four distinct areas:

  • Student literacy and understanding of technology
  • Equitable technological access for all students
  • Digital citizenship
  • Infrastructure and support to assist in the plan’s implementation

The district would make $630,391 in annual payments to lease equipment for the instructional plan, which is $204,609 less than what the district spent this year. Gee said that is because the district is ending a $250,000 district-wide infrastructure lease and another $200,000 high school instructional lease this year.

The equipment Gee wants to lease next year includes 615 laptops, 287 desktops, 19 SmartBoards, 37 document cameras, 71 digital still and video cameras.

Gee also mentioned another option that would involve installing virtual desktop servers and keeping the existing desktops in the district as "thin clients." Thin clients are devices that depend on servers to fulfill most of their computing work.

“If you imagine a box that is a server and all of these little computers inside it, that is kind of the best way to describe it,” Gee said.

Thin clients cost 10 to 20 percent less than traditional desktop computers, have faster boot times  and lifespans that are four-to-six years longer, according to Gee. The thin clients would also be more efficient to manage.

“Our plan [for the thin clients] is to do some testing; I’ve got two vendors bringing two different virtual desktop platforms and they’re doing a proof of concept,” Gee said.

Gee said the vendors were going to set up two or three rows of thin clients in a computer lab to see how they work and make decision. The testing would take place in September, when students and teachers are still in the schools, and a final decision would be made in December 2011.

“We might put it in, watch it for two days and decide we don’t want to do this,” Gee said.

Mark Chernis, a member of the school board, wondered about the practicality of using a three-year plan given the breakneck pace that technology evolves at.

“I worry a little bit for couple of reasons,” Chernis said. “First, it’s an awful lot of implementation to do in one year, but also, especially with technology changing in an educational landscape."

Jere Hochman, the superintendent of Bedford schools, said school school districts don’t typically move that fast due to their capacity. He also said that there is regrouping that is taking place and the plan is merely building the foundation to prepare the district for future requirements.

“There is a whole other set of databases and servers and services out there that we’re going to be responding to rather than building internally,” Hochman said. “Right now, we know the title to some of those, but that’s about it.”

Other meeting actions

  • The school board appointed the firm of RS Abrams, which is based in Islandia, NY, as its external auditor at cost of $35,700 for the 2011-2012 school year. The district is legally obligated to issue request for proposals for professional auditing  services at least every five years.  Prior to RS Abrams, the contracted with the firm O'Connor Davies Munns & Dobbins to do its external audits.
  • The district held a public hearing to spend $165,000 from its repair reserve fund to make repairs to the potable water systems at the Pound Ridge and West Patent elementary schools and fix the wiring at the Fox Lane Radio Tower. Mark Betz, the district's assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, said there was about $305,198 in the fund at the beginning. Betz estimates that there will be about $141,651 left in the fund once the repairs are made. That figure takes into account additional interest that is earnedfrom the fund, according to Betz.

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