Q&A: FCCPS Superintendent Jones on New Computer Technology
By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
September 10, 2012
FCT: FCCPS is purchasing new computer technology for students. Can you tell us exactly what will be purchased? Laptops? iPads? How many?
Jones: 700 laptops (Macbook Air) , 500 iPads
FCT: What will they cost?
Jones: Right now, until the equipment arrives we have not experienced any cost. However, we are working with an equipment total value of $700,000 – either paid in full this year if the city surplus comes through- or $200,000 from our current technology budget with the balance being paid through lease.
FCT: Will they be used equally across grades?
Jones: Yes. Every school building will benefit from this new equipment.
FCT: Why do our students need this new technology?
Jones: There are countless reasons why technology is a critical investment for our children and schools. But most importantly, it’s the world that our children live in right now. The highest volume of apps available at the Apple Store are actually books. Children love books that can talk to them and help them read a word when they get stuck. Children can read a fictional story about a dinosaur, and then out of sheer curiosity, click on the link to read factual information about a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus. Information is at their fingertips. In the upper grades, technology greatly enhances their research capabilities. It doesn’t mean they need to be on the computer all the time. It does mean that when they are engaged in an activity that can be enhanced by technology we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace it. Student engagement, without question, has been proven to be heightened when technology is infused at school. We want children to learn, and we want them to love school.
This is a sample clip from a large school district who started with machines, and then after 3 years moved to “bring your own device.” It has some good informational points and they have documented how student engagement has increased at all levels. This is just an example.
This is a clip that is primarily focused on how technology can enhance instruction for special education.
This is a clip about the iPad and textbooks.
This is a clip from a few of our teachers who were working with our summer school this year.
FCT: What’s the useful life of this technology before it needs to be upgraded to a newer version?
Jones: That’s a challenging question, in that the life of a machine is actually quite long. The point at which a school- or individual- upgrades their machine depends on what they want to do with the machine. The average lifespan to upgrade is 3-5 years for laptops, but that is not the lifespan of the machine. We have some laptops that are 8-10 years old right now. While they can’t be used to create video and run other instructional programs, we have kept them for web only SOL Virginia mandated testing. In fact, they have been a lifesaver in terms of getting us through testing. For that purpose, they are excellent. Our goal is to reinstate a strong replacement cycle which was reduced during the last three budget cycles. This will make purchasing more manageable during the annual budget.
On another note, the laptops that we are purchasing are new on the market and were just released with the newest version about 6 weeks ago.
FCT: Does the purchase price include service and maintenance?
Jones: Yes, It’s a typical warranty like we purchase with every machine in the division, and have done so for many years.
FCT: What’s your view of how student IT needs will evolve over the next few years. For example, in five years do you think our students will still be using basically the same kind of laptops and tablet computers they use now, or will they be operating off a cloud infrastructure, or what?
Jones: We are already operating within the cloud. Our learning management system, Google apps, and other teaching and learning tools are cloud based. In fact, almost everything for education is moving in that direction. We have also utilized Virtual technology to repurpose older desktop machines. Utilizing Virtual technology can take an old machine and make it run like a brand new one. We began that process last year so that we could extend the life of our machines for those web based only programs.
There are some great clips from Intel Corporation and other companies that demonstrate the “future” of education. Below are two links that you may find interesting.
A clip from Intel showing technology in the future (in general…not specific to schools).
Another clip from Intel showing a project from start to finish utilizing a future focused vision of what we can do.
FCT: Where will the new computers be located? Will they remain at school or come home with students?
Jones: The computers are housed at each individual school site. For the most part, the computers will stay at school because we are not purchasing enough computers to have one for every child.
FCT: Can you talk to us about how FCCPS makes technology decisions? Is there a staff technology person who designs our approach? Or a group? Do we pay an outside consultant? Are any parents involved in the process?
Jones: We have a large Technology Innovation Team who are highly proficient in technology, understand the educational needs, and are familiar with our system. We have 3 very highly skilled technicians- a Director, and 2 systems engineers. We have a communications specialist who helps us with aspects such as Google Apps and the web. We also have technology assistants at every building, as well as an instructional technology team which is lead by our Curriculum Instructional Resource Teacher who is based at GM. We come together as one large group so that instructional and infrastructure needs are considered in tandem. Our instructional leader is also one of our parents in the division. In addition, if needed we contract with a few companies who deal almost solely with schools and are highly skilled with complex networking issues. One of the great aspects of working with Apple is they provide free professional development, and with our purchase they provide an implementation specialist who will be onsite with us (here at FCCPS) as we image our new machines and launch out the products for our schools. We have an outstanding team of individuals who work to stay on the cutting edge and watch what is taking place around the country, and around the world.
FCT: We understand that FCCPS and Falls Church City government do not use a common IT approach or platform. Do you expect more commonality over time, or are the functions of the two organizations just too different to gain efficiencies of scale?
Jones: We actually work very well together, but our clients, services, and needs are vastly different. Our Director of Technology works with the Falls Church City Director of Technology to see how we can coordinate and share ideas and services. For instance, our phone systems are tightly coordinated. We also work on infrastructure pieces together and when we can coordinate we do. We also share software when we can, such as our financial system. Our IT departments have a great working relationship. However, what we need for a 10 year old and what they need for a court system are not the same. Our infrastructure is designed for a school, and that’s very different than a business or government agency. We have been able to hire and retain technology specialists’ who are accustomed to the needs of schools. Our technology use is not just staff, but every person who is our client (our students) must access technology on a daily basis. We have approximately 2,600 daily users who need to access our system with staff and students from within our organization. Each group of people also need varying degrees of filtering and access rights. Our children have a filtering system that must be incredibly tight.
FCT: What level of bandwidth is available within FCCPS?
Jones: We have 30 megabits per second going out, and 50 megabits per second coming in. Right now, it is the maximum that Verizon can provide. They are at their maximum. We are actually requesting that they upgrade so that we can increase.
FCT: As you know, funding for the new computers has been controversial. The School Board requested $500,000 from the City’s current budget surplus for the purchase of the technology, and there has been a lengthy debate about that within the City Council. However, you were able to proceed with the purchase before the City Council approved the request. How were you able to do that?
Jones: It’s important to note up front that the school has $200,000 in our current budget for technology, and that is what we are actually spending. That’s why we don’t need City Council to approve the purchase. What is different about this option, is that we are leasing. Our leadership team began discussing this approach early last year when we knew it was another tight budget season, and technology was on our unfunded needs list presented in the budget. The lease concept has been around for years, and it has helped schools all across America stay current and progressive with technology. While it’s not our first choice, it is a great option.
FCT: There is a school of thought that says young people are becoming too dependent upon computers and smart phones, and would be better served spending more time with books – the paper kind. What do you say to those who make this argument?
Jones: Personally, I am not sure that it matters if a child reads on a Kindle, an iPad, or reads a paper book. I believe the goal is to get a child to love reading. Children are motivated by technology, and if an iPad visual can help a child find a love for reading, then I hope that we will continue to embrace it. The world is changing, and while we need to be wise about how we use technology with children, we can’t deny that it’s here. Smart phones are no longer just phones. Just eight years ago a child had a calculator, an iPod, a computer, a book, and a phone. These were five separate items that were found in their backpacks. Were they less dependent on the items because they were separate? From watching children in schools, I would say no. The child who loved reading snuck the book under his desk in the middle of Algebra class. The child who loved music had an iPod hanging out of their pocket every minute it was allowed. Now, it’s one device. The key is, what are they doing on that device. Perhaps, they are actually reading an article about the environment or searching for colleges they want to attend. It’s not the technology, it is what they do with the technology that counts.
FCT: Thanks very much for taking time to provide this information and share your thoughts.
By Falls Church Times Staff
September 10, 2012