Herricks eyes school internet upgrades

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Herricks school Superintendent Fino Celano is seen in September 2016. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

By Kristy O’Connell

The Herricks school district will likely upgrade its schools’ internet infrastructure beginning in the summer of 2018, with the goal of increasing the capacity of the schools’ wired and wireless systems, district officials said Thursday.

The plan to upgrade the network follows the $966,909 in technology-project funding received from New York State as part of the SMART Schools Bond Act of 2014.

The state borrowed $2 billion under that act to finance educational technology and infrastructure with the aim of improving students’ access to technology and internet connectivity.

David Pickman, the technology integration specialist for the Herricks school district, said the internet access points in the district’s buildings were installed prior to the increased academic need for technology and are no longer enough to support the many devices in the schools.

Each access point can work for about 30 devices, he said. As the number of devices used climbs past this amount, the quality and speed of the internet connection wanes.

The district’s Educational Technology Committee wants to install an access point that can support up to 100 devices in all classrooms and learning spaces, administrators said.

The district increased the Internet bandwidth to 500 megabits per second in the 2016-17 academic school year, but the committee anticipates needing more bandwidth as technology usage in the classroom continues to expand.

In a survey disseminated to gather feedback from faculty and students about future technology decisions, when teachers were asked what technology tools they are using with students, 12 of the 13 responses were tools that require Internet access said Pickman and Christopher Connors, the district’s technology coordinator. Some of these tools include BrainPop, Google Classroom, Google Drive and library databases.

The district is also working to replace aging technology, particularly replacing Smart Boards, or touch-screen white boards, with the latest interactive TV displays, which will reduce future maintenance costs, Connors said.

District Superintendent Fino Celano said there is no evidence showing a significant relationship between academic performance and the use of tablets such as iPads in classrooms.

Several school districts have distributed iPads to all students in recent years. The Sewanhaka school district used its SMART Schools Bond Act money to purchase them last year.

“I’m not really convinced that handing every single student a tablet is the best use of our resources,” Celano said.

Also on Thursday, several residents expressed concerns about the potential for class sizes to exceed 20 students in the next academic year due to the proposed 2017-18 budget.

“The concern with having 27 students is similar to what we said earlier regarding the internet,” said Dr. Kostas Katsavdakis, a parent of two children in the district. “Twenty-seven kids is too many kids in the classroom – it’s too much for the teacher.”

Administrators last month proposed a $111.2 million budget that would increase property tax revenue by 1.62 percent, the maximum allowed under the state cap on tax levy increases.

The budget would allow the district to maintain all its current programs and maintain classroom guidelines, but would not leave much room to add new programs, Celano said.

Katsavdakis said his son has been in a classroom with over 20 kids for several years now, and it’s taking a toll. For the taxes he pays, 27 kids is just too much, he said.

“We are not happy with classes being so full,” said Nancy Feinstein, the school board president.

But the alternative is to increase the tax levy beyond the cap, which could only happen if at least 60 percent of voters approve such a hike, something Feinstein said is very unlikely.

School board Trustee James Gounaris said the board does not want to create an environment that is not conducive to learning. Since it is only March, he said, both the anticipated funding and district enrollment are still very much subject to change.

The school board will discuss the budget at three more meetings before deciding whether to adopt it on May 4. District residents will vote on the budget on May 16.

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