Kingsport, Sullivan schools moving toward 'Bring Your Own Device' programs

Rick Wagner • Dec 31, 2012 at 9:46 AM

KINGSPORT — Wireless devices soon may be as common as pencils, erasers and notebooks as tools for students in the Kingsport and Sullivan County school systems.

“Students in grades 3-12 will be able to bring their own technology to school if they choose to do so,” according to text on the KSC website.

Every school in the Kingsport City Schools system should have Wi-Fi by the end of January.

What’s more, the school system is doing a launch of a BYOD or Bring Your Own Device program, starting with a soft launch early in the spring semester and ramping up to a full-blown program by the start of the 2013-14 school year in August 2013.

The neighboring Sullivan County school system also is moving forward with bringing wireless access and a combination of BYOD and/or iPad programs to all county schools.

“All schools’ Wi-Fi should be turned on by Jan. 31,” school system Director of Technology John Payne said in an e-mail interview Friday. “We are on schedule for this at the current time.”

He said a related issue will be on the Thursday Board of Education agenda: a proposal to purchase iPads for all city teachers. The funding source is to be revenues from Sullivan County, the city system’s share of a property tax rate increase.

“We are currently working on this project and plan to take a proposal to the BOE (members) at their Jan. 3 meeting,” Payne said.

That funding will be recurring, but since it came after the city school budget was approved, the system is using it mostly for non-recurring expenses in 2012-13.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said the county system is not doing a formal rollout as such but is very much working on wireless infrastructure.

By 2014-15, he said the a 23-state consortium called PARCC — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — will require online testing that makes wired and wireless Internet access mandatory for school systems already moving toward the Common Core that same year. He said the county system is working to revise its technology plan.

“Just get as much technology in the children’s hands as you can,” city Board of Education member Betsy Cooper, a retired Washington Elementary teacher, said of the focus of BYOD. “Parents might be more inclined to buy an iPad if they (students) could us it at school.”

Yennie and Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie have urged their school boards to embrace the technology of wireless devices, which a few years ago were banned, frowned upon or limited to before- and after-school use.

“It’s about a default function at this point,” Yennie said. Early efforts included the BYOD at Sullivan South High that started in 2011-12, the same year Holston Middle School piloted an iPad program.

Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school jointly operated by Kingsport and the county school systems, provides take-home iPads for every student. The grades 6-7 school is to expand to grades 6-8 for 2012-13.

At Dobyns-Bennett High School, Payne said the Wi-Fi system will be accompanied by a program that will block attempts to provide access to multiple devices through a 3G or 4G smart phone hotspot.

“At Dobyns-Bennett a system is in place that will detect and shut down mobile hotspots if they are turned on using a cell phone. This is only at D-B,” Payne said.

“The system does not block regular cell phone signals, only Wi-Fi signals coming from a phone. We want to make sure that students are protected from inappropriate materials,” Payne said. “Using our network ensures that content students access on their device is filtered. We also want to do everything possible to stay CIPA (Child Internet Protection Act) compliant.”

The website, www.k12k.com/, also has information about the pros and cons of various wireless devices that students could bring to school. They include smart phones, tablets including Kindles, iPads and laptops — most any Wi-Fi enabled device.

“Any of those devices should work. The main thing is that the device is Wi-Fi ready,” Payne said. “Students could use their device for web searches and other information-gathering activities. (The) iPod Touch should work fine, too.”

Of course not all students have or will have access to a wireless device to bring to school.

“Students can share devices with parent consent,” Payne said.

“This has worked well in other districts we have talked to. We are also looking at purchasing some devices for checkout but they would only be used during the school day,” Payne said. “It would be later in the semester or next fall before loaner devices would be available. We will be starting BYOD rollout slowly this spring and ramp it up for the fall semester.”

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