Warren County R-III administrators received the go-ahead from the school board last week to proceed with the next steps on a plan to better support the district’s growing technology needs into the next 10 years.
The plan focuses on moving the backbone of the school’s technology — servers and other infrastructure equipment — under one roof and a customized environment conducive to managing the 24/7 reliability of a system that fuels today’s student learning.
During its regular October meeting last week, the board unanimously approved a proposal from administrators to move forward with a scope-of-work phase for centralizing the school’s technology infrastructure that keeps students, teachers, administrators and parents connected in a learning environment that is increasingly technology-based.
The infrastructure supports everything from wireless communications, Internet access, and instructional software packages to email, the district’s website, its parent portal, along with student and financial records.
“Right now, our servers are spread out in six buildings and housed in spaces that weren’t intended as technology environments,” said R-III Director of Technology Bobbi Novell, noting that the equipment, in some cases, is located in former broom closets and custodial spaces.
“This is very sophisticated equipment that generates heat, and needs to be in a managed, temperature-controlled environment for round-the-clock reliability that students, teachers, staff and parents count on.”
Novell said that the number of servers has doubled in the past few years as the district has promoted students bringing their own devices into the classroom and more aggressive use of technology as a learning resource overall.
During the meeting, administrators and representatives from architectural engineering firm Hoener Associates, Inc. discussed with board members the feasibility of centralizing the servers in what is now the district’s central office on Kuhl Avenue in front of Black Hawk Middle School. The central office location is ideal for a central technology center, since transformers adjacent to the building would offer reserve power not available in other locations.
District offices would be relocated to unused space in the school’s newly acquired building on Veterans Parkway West that is home to the Early Childhood Special Education program. The school was able to acquire the former United Services building earlier this year for $150,000 with a grant from the state of Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
The board’s approval clears the way for the school and Hoener to prepare documents for construction bids. A proposed timetable suggested to the board by Hoener would put bids for the project coming in by mid-February, and if approved, work beginning in May and completed by August.
The project would be partially funded by more than $300,000 owed by Ameren Missouri for 2010 utility taxes.
Better Space Plan
Beyond providing a more stable centralized environment for the school technology, R-III Superintendent Thomas Muzzey said there are compelling secondary benefits to relocating the equipment and offices.
“One of the benefits of moving offices to this location is that it frees up space in our other buildings that can be converted into classrooms,” said Muzzey. The new technology space also would serve as a central registration location for students and parents, he said, saving families time and effort by letting them come to one facility rather than numerous buildings to provide proof of residency and register children for different grade levels.
Another advantage of relocating office space to the former United Services building is that it offers additional space for meetings and training, Muzzey said. Currently the district is so limited in meeting space that staff must find private venues for meetings of more than a few people.
“We’d like to make this meeting space available to the community, too,” said Muzzey.
Technology Key to
Muzzey and Novell have underscored the importance of technology in and beyond the classroom as students — and many teachers — have been weaned on technology as a way of life. He estimates as many as 90 percent of all R-III high school students have cellphones, and that 60-70 percent of middle school students have the devices.
Muzzey’s administration has embraced students bringing their phones and digital tablets to school.
“This is the world they were born into,” said Muzzey. “They’ve grown up with cellphones and computers, along with social media, so we’re tapping into those existing skills to help them learn and prepare for college and the work force.”
The availability of technology-based learning and students’ acclimation toward these tools has created a dramatically different teaching and learning model, said Muzzey.
“Technology is a resource to aid teachers, rather than a teaching substitute,” Muzzey said.
Muzzey cites online resources like Edmodo, a popular social learning network that allows real-time dialog and collaboration among students and teachers on assignments, as major advancements in learning.
“Teachers can say to students, ‘I’ll be online tonight at 7 if anyone has problems or questions about the assignment,’ so it eliminates a lot of barriers to learning,” said Muzzey.
He also noted the availability of a bullying hotline that allows students to anonymously text incidents that then are immediately acted upon by teachers and administrators.
Interactive touch-screen technology is available even in lower grades to allow students and teachers to learn and solve problems instantaneously and collaboratively.
Update of 10-Year Old Phone System
As part of the infrastructure program, Muzzey and Novell said the district will look at possible upgrades to the current telephone system, which was installed more than a decade ago. The district’s needs have grown to include more than 400 phones, but as the equipment has aged, the school increasingly has to scour for refurbished parts as the sets break down, Novell told the board.
“The phones are definitely near the end of life in terms of being backed up by the manufacturer,” said Novell.
Depending on the scale and of the upgrade, administrators and contractors said the cost range would be from $125,000 to $250,000.
R-III on the Leading Edge
Novell said that R-III is among the most progressive schools in the area when it comes to providing learning technology.
Both Novell and Muzzey agreed that technology is a huge part of the future of classroom instruction, and said they are gearing up for a new wave of student devices received as holiday gifts in December.
The improved setting for technology infrastructure is an important step in continuing the district’s progress in this area, said Muzzey.
“We want people to move to Warrenton knowing our schools have the best teachers and learning resources,” Muzzey said.