Comox Valley students to get better ‘screen time’ to go with their ‘green time’

Students and teachers can expect new and improved technology at their Comox Valley schools, possibly starting this summer.

Students and teachers can expect new and improved technology at their Comox Valley schools, possibly starting this summer.

Comox Valley trustees voted to “support a one-time $4-million all-inclusive purchase of information technology” during their Tuesday board meeting.

According to school district secretary treasurer Russell Horswill, the board watched a presentation about the district’s technological state during an in-camera meeting — and learned much of the equipment is out of date.

“Most of the technology is old or near the end of its life,” he said, adding 364 staff members responded to a survey about the state of the equipment in their schools.

“When asked a question about if the speed of the computer is adequate, 79 per cent have indicated ‘no,’ that the speed of our Internet is adequate, 78 per cent have said ‘no,’ that the computers, laptops in my schools work properly each time, 78 per cent of the respondents have said ‘no,’ and that they believe technology enables the instructional environment and improves student academic achievement, 74 per cent said ‘yes.’

“So what we’re finding from the survey of our staff is that the vast majority of them are indicating to us that the technology that we currently provide them is inadequate and that they do believe it is a critical component of student learning.”

The district had IBM Canada and Cisco Systems conduct a comprehensive review of the district’s technology, and Horswill noted that study shows $4 million should be sufficient for the needed upgrades, with $4 million as the maximum spent.

The upgrades include server replacement, network infrastructure, Provincial Learning Network bandwidth enhancements, workstation replacement, Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system and required user training.

His report to the board also noted initial hardware purchases could start this summer.

Horswill said money sources would mainly be the district’s reserves. The district can draw $1.75 million from its Local Capital Reserve, the Education Ministry has already approved spending $500,000 from the district’s Restricted Capital Reserve for information technology purchases, and the district would ask the ministry to approve spending an additional $1.2 million from that reserve.

He pointed out that money, which adds up to $3.45 million, would be spent at the outset of the upgrading process, and that the process would be eight years long with some equipment purchased and some leased.

The technology would have to be refreshed twice during the eight-year process, and the costs for that would come out of the district’s operating budget in future years.

The process also includes setting aside money from the operating budget to create a reserve for this future spending.

While spending $1.2 million from the district’s Restricted Capital Reserve must be approved by the education minister, Horswill noted ministry staff have been “favourable” toward the request.

However, if it is not approved, the district would focus on leasing more equipment rather than purchasing it up front.

Trustee Sheila McDonnell spoke against the proposed spending.

“I’m actually really not ready to support it at this time,” she said, noting concerns about spending that  much money on the upgrades. “I think our kids have a lot of screen time already, I think that it’s a lot of eggs in one basket and there are other baskets in the district … that I have an interest in as well and I’m just not comfortable with it at this time.”

Trustee Rick Grinham replied that as much as he agrees with McDonnell that kids need “green time,” they also need “screen time.”

“The whole point here is where we’re going in 21st century learning and that’s what it’s about,” he continued. “I mean we just can’t shut it off and turn a blind eye, but I still think that the challenge is for our schools to ensure that kids get green time just as much as screen time.”

Trustees voted in favour of the recommendation with McDonnell opposed.

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