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A quantum leap for technology (04/09/2008)
By Paul Durand
For years District #861 has struggled to find ways to provide current technology for our students and staff. This was in large part due to three main factors. First, the high cost of technology and how quickly the hardware and software became obsolete and outdated. Second, in previous years, the Minnesota Legislature failed to earmark funds to support updated technology in public schools. A third reason hampering the improvement of district-wide technology was that several local referendums were unsuccessful at gaining voter approval allowing sustained funding for technology. This summer all of this will change and the Winona Area Public Schools will make a quantum leap forward in technology. Three factors have changed that will now allow these momentous improvements. Beginning July 1, 2007, the Minnesota State Legislature approved two years of specific revenues allowing districts to address technology deficiencies. Next, during recently completed contract negotiations an agreement was reached between the school district and the Winona Education Association to free up staff development funds to address teacher computers and related technology needs. Finally, there was a settlement of a class action lawsuit against Microsoft on behalf of consumers and businesses that acquired Microsoft software. Our school district has remaining vouchers that will allow the school district to make general purpose and site-licensed software purchases.

Thus, the school district is finally in a position to greatly improve student and teacher hardware and software district-wide. This comprehensive solution will allow all students and teachers equitable access to the necessary educational equipment and software no matter what program, grade-level or building. The following are some of the solutions being considered:


The district wanted to find a way to address outdated student computers and software with a solution that reduced tech support and repairs, maintained staff development and student instruction, reduced energy costs, lessened the amount of quickly outdated hardware in our inventory and was cost effective. We feel we have found a solution by applying an innovative twist on the idea of "multi-user computing" or "thin-client" technology. This is a solution that doesn't require the district to buy massive servers or run sophisticated software. It is easy to install, is low cost, low maintenance and is a "green solution". This "thin-client" technology is currently being piloted at Jefferson Elementary, WSHS (Career Center, Art and English departments) and the WALC Media Center. This technology turns a single computer into a shared network of workstations. So, a lab of thirty-two workstations only requires eight actual computers. This solution can produce a 40% - 70% hardware cost saving over traditional computer labs and achieves the majority of our performance goals.


This spring the Board of Education will consider several options to update computers and technology for WAPS teaching staff. Options such as leasing tablet computers on an annual basis (similar to the Winona State University laptop program), purchasing new desktop computers for all WAPS teaching staff or leasing new desktop computers are all being evaluated and compared. The board will receive research from the District Technology Committee and the district technology and administrative staff. The tentative timeline is to acquire the computers for teachers in spring 2008, get the computers set up over the summer of 2008 and provide training for teachers during the summer/fall of 2008.


The main need for software in the school district will be to upgrade the existing student information system that has been in place for the past eighteen years. It has been over ten years since our computer server software has been updated. In fact, the current software (AS-400) is no longer being enhanced or developed and it is still being used by only three of more than 300 remaining Minnesota school districts. Use of Microsoft vouchers will allow us to purchase new student information system software to be used in every building in the school district. The new software will be web-based and provide several enhanced functions such as; online teacher tools (grade books, communications, lesson planning, assignments, progress reports), enhanced scheduling, attendance, grading and student demographic records, parent online portal access to student data, automated communication features, reduced hardware/software maintenance and improved interface capabilities with other systems (food service, transportation, etc.)

The mere thought of next fall finally having these long overdue, hardware and software improvements in place for students and staff use is exciting! As one teacher put it in a recently completed staff technology survey, "Upgrading/adding technology will allow teachers to add depth and interest to the existing curriculum. Technology offers students a multidimensional, ‘brains-on' learning experience". The upgrades planned will move the school district ahead at least ten years from where we currently are with computers. Yet, we must acknowledge that even with these improvements, reaching full implementation and utilization will take a fair amount of fine-tuning. We need to be aware that since the school district has been so far behind in technology we must all be patient and willing to take the time needed to properly train our staff and educate our students in order to integrate its use into our classrooms. We have very high hopes that these new educational tools will assist our students and staff, both personally and professionally, to effectively compete with others as we step into a technologically advanced future. Building a dedicated budget for technology support is also imperative in order to sustaining the future of technology in our schools.



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