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Hernando school district looks to boost technology in classrooms

BROOKSVILLE — Standardized testing is a huge part of any Florida student's academic life.

That means a lot of different things to a lot of people. But for school district technology officials across the state, it means one thing: Districts are in great need of additional computers, increased bandwidth speeds, more wireless access and software upgrades to meet the demands of computer-based testing.

"This is not unique to Hernando County. This is a statewide problem," said superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

Hernando County School Board members took a step toward meeting the growing needs Tuesday afternoon, giving tentative approval to a three-year, multimillion-dollar plan to fund the technology upgrades.

"This is a great step forward. I'm glad we're thinking ahead," Blavatt said.

The need for greater technology in response to testing demands is nothing new.

Earlier this year, the district doubled its bandwidth, partially in response to computer-based testing needs.

Now administrators are looking to do a lot more.

At a cost of about $1 million, the district wants to further increase its bandwidth this year, provide wireless capabilities at all secondary schools, buy an additional 500 or more laptops for computer-based testing, purchase an additional 600 desktop computers to replace obsolete equipment and buy system upgrades for existing hardware, according to the computer acquisition plan presented Tuesday.

In the following two school years, the district is looking to make additional improvements in these areas, at a potential cost of $3 million.

For the 2013-14 school year, the district plan calls for increasing funding for more bandwidth, providing wireless Internet at all elementary schools, buying tablets, system upgrades and purchasing at least 2,000 more laptops and desktops for computer-based testing and to replace outdated computers.

It's the same story for 2014-15, when the district will look to fund an increase in bandwidth and buy more hardware and tablets.

Although the district is expanding its technology, it might not be nearly enough to satisfy the state's expectations.

Earlier this year, the governor received a number of technology recommendations from a statewide task force. The recommendations, while similar to what Hernando is doing, go way beyond the district's plan.

"What it does is it takes it to the nth degree," Melissa Harts, the district's director of technology and information, said of the state.

Districts should have a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio by 2014-15, with a third of the devices coming from students themselves, according to the Education Technology Modernization Initiative's executive summary, which was presented to the School Board on Tuesday.

The district currently has only one computer for every three students.

The recommendations also call for a dramatic increase in Internet bandwidth and wireless capacity and bandwidth.

"The state initiative is far beyond any district's capabilities at this time," Harts said.

Meanwhile, the district also hopes to spend between $700,000 and $850,000 to replace a 16-year-old in-house software system that handles such things as payroll and finances.

The money for this year's request — roughly $1.7 million — is slated to come from unspent district technology money.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

Hernando school district looks to boost technology in classrooms 12/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 8:08pm]
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