Hamilton County School board retreat focuses on technology

Hamilton County School board retreat focuses on technology

February 10th, 2013 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Department of Education headquarters

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Even with an influx of state dollars, Hamilton County Schools won't be technologically up to speed anytime soon.

The school system will get about $1 million out of a one-time pot of $51 million in Gov. Bill Haslam's budget to help school systems buy computers, tablets and technological infrastructure. The state is making the money available because it's mandating districts be ready for new online standardized tests by next year.

But Hamilton County will have to increase the bandwidth capacity at most schools before each student can use a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

"Even if we get the money tomorrow, it will take about a year to finish the project," said Superintendent Rick Smith.

The school board heard an update on the district's plans to upgrade technology at its annual planning retreat Saturday. Along with technology, board members discussed school safety, student achievement and the board's strengths and weaknesses, though no action was taken.

School officials say they'll invest all $1 million in technological infrastructure. That doesn't address how schools will upgrade or buy new computers or devices.

"Without the bandwidth, nothing else matters," said board member Jonathan Welch, who is chairman of the board's technology committee.

Initially, the superintendent discussed an $18 million plan to purchase iPads for all 42,000 students in Hamilton County Schools. But on Saturday, board members talked about exploring other devices or upgrading current computers.

Administrators also are hoping parents and community groups will help foot a significant portion of the bill.

Smith and others noted that the upgrades won't be made just to take tests. Rather, officials hope to integrate tablets and smartphones into classrooms to enhance instruction across the board.

A state report given to the district last week claimed Hamilton County would need to buy or upgrade thousands of devices to be ready for online testing next year. But Smith said officials have questioned the state's figures and believe the data to be incorrect. He hopes to get more accurate estimates in the coming week.

Crews are working on installing a wireless connection at each school, said Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade. Then administrators will configure guest log-in accounts so students can bring their own devices from home and securely access the school district's network.

"It can be done. We know it can be done," McDade said. "But what we've got to do first is get our infrastructure ready."