ESPLOST essential for 21st century classrooms

ESPLOST essential for 21st century classrooms

February 10th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Having well-maintained facilities that offer a safe learning environment is a vital component to providing a solid public education.

While spiffy new buildings are nice, something even more important is found inside the classrooms: students, faculty and the tools necessary to teach - and learn.

That is why local officials say the upcoming EPLOST IV referendum is critical for Catoosa students in the years ahead, particularly in making technology upgrades possible.

"It is an investment in our future," said Damon Raines, director of operations for Catoosa County Public Schools.

Steve Sawyer, head of information technology for the local school system, said ESPLOST funding will focus on improving two things.

"One, the biggest, is to strengthen the infrastructure that allows us to integrate technology in the classroom," he said. "We want to be in a position to be ready for the technology of the future."

Being proactive rather than reactive will involve rewiring schools, adding servers and eventually adding wireless capabilities, he said.

A second priority will involve integrating technology into teachers' and students' daily routine.

"When you look at the textbook market, it is still geared toward paper," Sawyer said. "But teachers use a lot of resources, Internet resources, and we want to build a good framework that allows expansion."

Trying to create the framework for more interactive classrooms might involve teachers having laptop computers and putting interactive white boards in classrooms to allow students or students and a teacher to work together, he said.

Officials agree that the process of bringing all schools into the 21st century, with whatever is installed, will be more involved - and costly - than boxes of chalk and reams of paper.

ESPLOST III allowed integration of technology into classrooms during construction of Heritage High School (cost $42.5 million) and helped with upgrades in some elementary schools.

The next five-year ESPLOST cycle will collect up to $79 million, Raines said. Of that amount about 8 percent, or $6.5 million, is earmarked for updating computers, networking and other infrastructure improvements.

"After the state cut lottery money being available for technology we had to incorporate it into our ESPLOST," he said. "It is never enough but has been keeping the hardware up-to-date."

Now the focus will shift to bringing information into the buildings, he said. That means upgrading entire systems to allow faster transmission of ever-increasing amounts of data, all in the interest of enhancing the teaching experience.

While some specific pieces of hardware that may be cutting-edge one year are obsolete the next, Raines said improved infrastructure should accommodate whatever new technology is adopted.

"I hope the community sees that what we get with ESPLOST will carry us into the future," he said. "We want to be on the edge of whatever wave comes along."