Collaboration via computers is expected to be in store for Norwalk schoolchildren in the near future, as the Board of Education on Tuesday night approved the purchase of Chromebooks to go along with its pending Wi-Fi installation.
The request to use nearly $423,000 from the $600,000 carrying over from the 2012-2013 school year to purchase Chromebooks was approved unanimously by the board. E-Plus was chosen to install Wi-Fi at all the schools, while Cisco/Meraki will provide the hardware and controller solutions. The new system will be installed by March and will be used at the elementary schools in the spring for Smarter Balance Assessments, testing that is aligned with Common Core State Standards.
"As we put these pieces in I'll be able to look at a controller that's accessable through the Internet and be able to see what devices are being used where," Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi said.
"When it comes time for certain things like the Smarter Balance Assessment, we can make sure that only these computers get priority on the bandwith. So if someone has their iPhone connected that would be cut off at that time frame so we don't have a problem with the assessments. This is one of the reasons you see the project at $1.4 million. It's not to exceed that and we will come in under that."
The Chromebooks have no software, so instead of storing data locally, it will be stored on an Internet service, these days referred to as the "Cloud."
"One of the key 21st century skills we want to give them is the ability to collaborate," Valenzisi said. "Having these tools available to them anywhere will allow teachers to start to deliver that type of instruction. Since most of our resources are already Web-based, it actually offers us a very versatile solution to be able to give kids access outside of the school system if they can just get onto any other type of tablet or computer."
The total cost of the Wi-Fi installation is not to exceed $1.4 million. Bids came in between $550,000 and $4 million, most of them between $1 million to $1.7 million.
The Wi-Fi will be available to visitors at the schools via a guest password, but students will have priority. Valenzisi promised that the Wi-Fi would not become overloaded.
Board member Artie Kassimis asked why Chromebooks were chosen over iPads. Valenzisi said Chromebooks have Flash, enabling certain types of animations used for teaching.
The "wonderful instructional tool" will be more versatile for more types of programs and be accessible to the staff. They will be used for 90 percent of the teaching, with full computers still being used for computer assisted design, art, and music, and iPads still in use for other things and Macs for art and music.
"We will be able to give students access outside of school by logging onto a Google Chrome browser on any other device," he said.
Board member Steve Colarossi said there are deficiencies in Google drive programs, such as spreadsheets and word processing.
Valenzisi said most people don't use 90 percent of the capabilities of Word.
"I actually sit on the National Advisory Committee for Microsoft for K-12 education," he said. "So for me to say that we're moving towards a more Chrome environment is a pretty strong statement."
Most American K-12 schools are going to Chrome, he said.
In other BOE news, the board voted to apply for a Race to The Top grant, working toward closing the achievement gap with a student-focused culture that aims to make every child college and career ready by the time they graduate. That includes being able to use technology thoughtfully to enhance communication skills and tailor online searches.
"The competition is pretty stiff, but I'm excited about this," BOE Chairman Mike Lyons said.
Kassimis announced that a recent report of shots fired near Cranbury Elementary School has been attributed to a nail gun. The contractor has been asked to notify school officials when the gun will be used.
The board also voted to make October ADHD Awareness Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.