Bibb County public schools are getting technology upgrades that should cure some problems and prepare schools for the future.
The system has already moved some bottlenecks and is working to bring faster networking, wireless Internet access, reliable email and other fixes to the school systems technologies, said Mike Hall, the systems executive director of technology.
Part of the challenge, he said, is to make sure all the parts work correctly, such as teachers who are trained to use capable computers with appropriate software that runs through a good network.
The systems plans include some upgrades, such as pervasive wireless access, that will become more important as technologies shift education.
The district is also pioneering bring your own devices at Springdale Elementary School, where students may have a variety of tablet computers from home that they can use in the classrooms.
As the school system rewires schools, it will put 1-gigabit connections into classrooms -- leaving them potentially with five times the speed the entire district had previously.
Were going from a dirt road to an interstate, he said. The fiber-optic cabling in each classroom should help the district in the future, when more students will use more devices.
The system has already doubled its own Internet access to 1 gigabit, with a potential for 10 times that. The previous access was 500 megabits but it was actually limited to about 40 percent of that speed, because the systems content filters and firewalls were too slow and acted as bottlenecks. Those have since been replaced, letting the system get access at full speed.
Hartley Elementary School is the systems first site to start getting the faster network and wireless access.
Hartley Elementary Principal Shelia Garcia said that as technology improves, the additional capacity will be important. Because work is still continuing, Garcia hasnt yet discovered how much the new equipment will matter.
Im very pleased, because theyve been working tirelessly until 2 and 3 oclock in the morning, she said.
Core data center at Hutchings
Hall said the upgrades are being done with a mixture of money, including revenue from an education sales tax initiative and the federal E-Rate program. That money was originally going to rewire schools for more limited, copper-wire networking, but Hall said the fiber-optic gear can be done for the same price and will give the schools more flexibility -- and faster speeds -- for years to come.
The system has also begun building a core data center at Hutchings Career Center, where it can begin centralizing servers and email. Hall said he expects the school board will issue bids this month and probably award the work in January to fully build out the center. Hall said hes also using two other rooms in the center for training and computer repairs.
The centralized data center will replace what Hall called a hodgepodge of equipment.
The systems 41 schools and eight administrative sites have been running their own services, sometimes from closets without electrical grounding or sufficient air conditioning. The system also doesnt have a good grasp of what software is being used -- or whether the software is effective.
At every site, you have multiple servers that are doing multiple things, and those are very, very old servers. We lose servers every day, Hall said. And if you have no backup, you lose what you have.
We are moving to a centralized data center to be able to put all of those legacy programs in a centralized location and to be able to say, Hey, we dont actually use that program.
Hall estimated that the system has 15,000 computers, 12,000 of which are at least five years old. Some computers are as much as 12 years old, older than some middle school students.
Schools also need to change their focus, he said, making sure theyre holding back enough money from technology purchases to train and support teachers adequately.
About a decade ago, when Hall was principal of Houston County High School, the school won a national award for technology integration.
Hall said one thing he learned there was that technology should be rolled out one classroom at a time so the teachers can be properly trained, or the equipment often wont get used.
New email services should be ready by next summer. The system is also gearing up for required online testing. Online testing will also be matched with a tool called Performance Matters, which will help teachers figure out which lessons are working and which arent, or on what subjects to spend more or less time. That could let teachers share ideas.
Any time you can get the teachers to a point where theyre having those discussions, then the students really benefit, Hall said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.