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Infrastructure Upgrades Underway

By Staff | Mar 7, 2012

On Monday evening County Technology Coordinator Robert Shaver reported to the Wetzel County Board of Education that work is being done to upgrade the schools’ infrastructure, with the help of two agencies supplying generous funding for such technological endeavors.

Shaver explained much of the infrastructure work will be done thanks to Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) E-Rate funding in the amount of $906,653.43. These funds will cover the installation of all new cables, switches, and the like throughout all of the county’s schools. Shaver noted these fixtures have not been upgraded since around 1994. Regarding reworking the cabling in the schools, Shaver said, “We want to fix it and make it right.” The county will match the allotted funds at 25 percent.

Additionally, Shaver shared with the board that upgrades to broadband access in the schools will be done through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), a national fiber optic connections project working to put in broadband across the states. Notably, this project is paid for through stimulus money and as such there are no matching funds required.

Regarding fiber optic cable, Shaver said Wetzel County utilizes Stratus Wave Communications which offers internet speed at 10 Mbps (Megabytes per second). However, the 10 Mbps connection is not as reliable as is needed, Shaver said, noting that on occasion various schools will lose their signal. As such he recommended the county move forward with installing fiber optic connections. “We depend on that internet connection,” he resolved.

Shaver shared previous goals with the board regarding tech upgrades at the schools and was happy to report all of the schools are running on standardized servers and that data backup solutions are being implemented to protect data. Also, he spoke about school server and desktop virtualization, wherein all four servers are virtualized on one box. This is not only convenient but also results in 75 percent energy savings. “Schools are strapped for power,” he said. “We’re working to fix that.”

Shaver noted all of the schools in the county have commercial quality wireless service and that in addition to laptop carts, next year the schools will be able to offer student devices. However, it is unknown at this time what those devices will be. Regarding these devices, it was asked if the devices would stay at the schools or if students could take them home. It was noted some schools already using such tools allow students to check out devices but that they anticipate these devices will be primarily for classroom use. However, that decision will be made down the road.

Board Vice President Robert Patterson inquired whether or not the wireless internet at the schools would be password protected and what sort of access students could gain on their personal devices such as cell phones. Shaver said the wireless connection is password protected but that students could access it through certain devices. However, the school can control the degree of access any one device will have through the network, explaining that the server will only recognize devices with a MAC (Media Access Control) address. Even with the password, a device not registered with a MAC address will be prohibited from access.

At the conclusion of Shaver’s presentation Treasurer Jeff Lancaster asked if there is really a need for computer labs anymore given the increased use of mobile laptop carts and wireless devices such as tablets in schools.

“In my opinion, yes,” said Shaver. “I like the security of wired versus not wired. I think that wired devices are more robust and last longer.” However, Shaver noted that with the direction technology is going, someday in the near future that may not be the case.

In another matter Superintendent Diane Watt spoke to the board about the buzzing question of whether or not West Virginia will be applying for the No Child Left Behind Waiver. In short, Watt said West Virginia does plan to apply for the waiver, which if approved, would freeze the state’s Annual Measurable Objective (AMO) for one year. The AMO is the benchmark all schools are required to reach to meet Adequate Yearly Progress. If awarded the waiver, the schools would only have to reach the AMO at 50.5 percent, giving teachers and students some breathing room from the stress of making the state’s goals. However, for the following school year students will be required to reach the current benchmark.

“If the teachers can have a little bit of stress release from making that benchmark, they can put more effort into instructional practices,” Watt explained. “The state believes that asking for the waiver this year is a good thing. It gives a little release and allows us to work on what’s important, which is classroom instruction.”

In related matters Watt shared that Wetzel County is voluntarily choosing to implement College Readiness Standards. Under these standards math courses will be reconstructed into a more integrated course with the hopes that students will retain “better number understanding.” Specifically, the Algebra I class will be changed into Math I, a course that combines Algebra I content standards with geometry.

Also, another course being introduced is a College Readiness course in English 12. While schools will still offer AP English and English 12, this college-aimed honors course will be focused on learning and understanding informational text. Feedback from colleges have indicated that students simply don’t understand how to read text books. This course aims to help better prepare students for college-level textbook reading. Watt said the goal is to have at least one period of this class at every school in the county.

With all this in mind, Watt noted it will be a difficult year ahead for both the teachers and students as they learn the new material. Board member Jim “Cork” Bowen noted the importance of strong support systems for the teachers in regard to handing the new curriculum. In agreement, Watt noted upcoming Continuing Education days for staff and professional development are already planned in addition to summer trainings to provide teachers such support. She also said teachers are planned to meet once a month to examine where they are at in regard to the new materials. “It’s going to be a process of learning and planning,” Watt concluded. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Lastly, the board established the following meeting times, all to be held at the county office: statutory/regular meeting March 19 at 7 p.m.; regular meeting April 2 at 7 p.m.; special budget work session on April 9 at 6 p.m.; regular meeting April 16 at 7 p.m.; and continuation of March 5’s statutory meeting on April 17 at 8 a.m.