Whitesburg KY

More ‘bits’ needed

School administrators in Letcher County say they are trying to improve technology throughout the district, but are hampered by limited funding.

“Our main priority right now is keeping everything we got running with upto date software and trying to get wireless ( Internet access) distributed,” the district’s technology coordinator, Randy Bailey, told the Letcher County Board of Education this week.

The number of educators in the Letcher district who say they have sufficient access to instructional technology has decreased by 14 percent in the last two years, according to a TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Kentucky Survey. Of those surveyed here in 2013, 73.8 percent said they had ample access to computers, printers, software and Internet connection.

“Back in March the state did go ahead and upgrade our Internet connection from 45 megabits in the district to a 250 megabit circuit,” said Bailey.

That is equivalent to about 50 kilobits for every student and the recommended amount is 100 kilobits for each student, Bailey said. (A megabit is approximately 100 pages of plain notepad text.)

With several million dollars being allocated in the state budget for school technology, Bailey said the bandwidth will continue to increase.

The district is expected to receive about $35,000 for each of the next four years from a Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) grant to purchase mobile devices for students.

The district recently obtained nearly 100 operable computers from the state department’s surplus. The computers are three to five years old.

“That is a big help,” said Letcher County Public Schools Supt. Tony Sergent. “A lot of our machines are seven or eight years old.”

Bailey said if more surplus computers come available the district could receive several hundred more.

“ If there are any machines that are too old for us to upgrade, we are going to replace those first,” said Bailey. “We’re going to get anything that doesn’t really work out of the district. Then the first thing that is written in our technology plan is to make sure that we try to get four machines in every primary classroom across the district.”

Bailey said one of the district’s goals is to have modern software on all 1,600 of the district’s computers. Not counting teacher computers, Bailey said the district has one computer for about every 2.5 students.

“Our biggest hurdle right now is getting wireless access in every nook and cranny in the buildings,” said Bailey. “We’ve got basic access down the main hallways.”

Bailey told the school board that he plans to meet with a group next week to try and see what the cheapest way is to have wireless Internet in every classroom in the school district.

“That is our biggest need right now,” he said. “We have all of this bandwidth the state has given us. Now, we’ve got to give the students access to use that bandwidth. And that is what we are going to do.”

Bailey said it is estimated to cost $250,000 to make wireless Internet available across the district.

“I’m hoping next week we can get that number trimmed down substantially,” he said.

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