by PJ Rooks
Platte County R-3 school board members recently approved spending of up to $431,020 for technology upgrades throughout the district.
With a budget for the upcoming school year still to be established, the board's approval is not for the purchase or installation of the equipment yet, but instead to allow expenditures up to that amount. Replacing some of the desktop computers and other hands-on classroom equipment, upgrading switches in the district’s network, and revamping the equipment serving the modular technology program are the three main goals served by the approval.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Gardner emphasized that the numbers may need to be adjusted to meet with the upcoming budget, so the final plan is not yet set in stone. As it stands now, however, approved bidders include Dell, $178,297, to replace classroom computers and other "front-end" equipment, LJ Create, $146,468, for modular programming upgrades, and Yellow Dog, $106,255, to update network equipment and switches.
"You can think of network equipment as the highway between cities," said technology director Robert Hedgecorth. "They transfer data back and forth.”
The district counts five elementary schools and an early childhood center, two middle schools, a high school, a vocational school serving the northland and the administrative offices in the District Education Center among its buildings and listed a 2011-12 enrollment of 3,547, according to its 2012-2015 Technology Plan.
Its main data center is located in the high school and Hedgecorth said that in the other buildings, most of the district's switches have outrun their typical seven-year life span by a year or two. When they fail, he said, every attached computer becomes "basically a paperweight,” as did 48 in an incident earlier this year.
According to the district’s “NetworkRefresh Implementation Plan 2011-12,” data traffic on the district’s switches has increased “at least ten-fold” in the last seven years and is already causing service disruptions.
“When a switch fails, unfortunately, many, many computers are going to suffer down time, so we want to make sure that this equipment is up and running and within its life span,” said Gardner. “These switches are too old to continue pushing as much data at the speeds that we need to run. It would be the equivalent of still having dialup.”
Current switches will not support more than a 1 GB connection but the plan states that the “backbone” needs to be increased to 10 GB “to meet the requirements of both current curriculum offerings and enable the district to broaden the scope of those offerings.”
Superintendent Mike Reik said the situation with the network poses a “major concern” for both the technology department and the administration.
“Every application we run is internet-based almost and (for) the state testing, everything will be online here in a couple years,” he told board members. “For us to do what we need to do through assessments, whether it’s local assessments or state assessments, we have to upgrade our network.”
Hedgecorth also said that replacing classroom computers at five years of age is an ongoing activity of the technology department and that the older computers are then reassigned to uses demanding less speed or memory.
Finally, for the modular technology programs in Barry and Platte City Middle Schools, which, explained assistant superintendent Rob Gardner, combine curriculum elements traditionally associated with “shop” classes and “home economics,” Hedgecorth said the district’s current modular program will no longer be supported by its parent company. Plans to upgrade came as the recommendation of a committee established by the technology department to explore solutions.