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Building-wide Wi-Fi coming to D-B, Sevier, Robinson

June 23rd, 2012 9:33 pm by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT — Building-wide Wi-Fi is coming to Kingsport’s high school and two middle schools, ushering in what Superintendent Lyle Ailshie calls a new era of embracing wireless technology instead of shunning it.


Thanks to a second look at a proposal to bring Wi-Fi to Dobyns-Bennett High School and the backbone for the entire system, Ailshie said the school system has determined it can install Wi-Fi in D-B, Robinson and Sevier middle schools for about the same price as originally estimated for D-B — less than $280,000.


Ailshie lauded the work of Director of Technology John Payne on that project.


The money will come from a $1.5 million bond issue the Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently approved for the school system for capital projects.


Ailshie said the project — to go before the BMA at its July 10 meeting — will not be completed by the first of the school year in August but should be done within the 2012-13 school year.


It is a move toward the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program for grades 6-12 in Kingsport City Schools.


The revised estimate for all three schools is $279,096.75 but could fall even further with more tweaking, Ailshie said, compared to the old estimate of about $270,000 for the backbone and D-B alone.


The cost breakdown is $203,072.75 for D-B, $32,648 for Robinson and $43,376 for Sevier. The prices include almost $40,000 in the D-B amount for a “rogue” detection system, which would detect and shut down any attempts at using 3G or 4G cell phones to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot that would allow up to five users to bypass the school system’s Wi-Fi system, which will have filters and restrictions in place.


Kingsport Board of Education President Randy Montgomery said things like that are part of the reason the project might seem expensive. He and Ailshie said it is much more involved than just putting in a wireless router for home use because of security issues as well as because each classroom would get access, and the system would be able to control the amount of bandwidth used by specific types of devices. Ailshie said some devices can take lots of bandwidth.


During a BOE work session Thursday evening, Ailshie said the Wi-Fi program is “a large step toward BYOD.”


As a practical matter, he said the Wi-Fi-enabled devices would be a combination of student/parent-provided ones and school system-provided ones.


“We have to get beyond banning phones to using them. We may have to control them,” said Ailshie. “We’re hoping to open up the usage by teachers and students.”


Locally, in neighboring Sullivan County’s school system, Sullivan South High School for the 2011-12 school year launched a BYOD program, having students use everything from smart phones and laptops to tablets and iPads in classes. In addition, the county’s Holston Middle School provided students without an iPad with a school-issued one and set up a purchase plan for the iPads for parents who wanted to buy.


More recently, officials of Kingsport and Sullivan schools announced that students at Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee, a platform STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school the two systems are jointly operating in the old Brookside Elementary in Bloomingdale, each will get a school-issued iPad. The grades 6-7 school is eventually to grow into a grades 6-12 school.


Ailshie said BYOD and Wi-Fi in the system are a far cry from technology when he first began teaching, which consisted of filmstrips teachers could show in a classroom — with a one-week advance notice.


It’s also a far cry from days when one teacher showing a movie on a smart board would take most of the bandwidth for the whole school system, something BOE member and former Washington Elementary School teacher Betsy Cooper said she remembers well.


With many students having smart phones or other devices with them in backpacks — devices that have many times the computing power of the rudimentary computers used when astronauts first went to the moon in 1969 — Ailshie said it is time the school system uses technology of the 21st century.


In other matters the board discussed Thursday night:


•A proposal has been made to move the Junior ROTC program from space inside D-B to the separate Legion Center, opening up the two JROTC classrooms for use as regular classrooms or career technical classrooms.


“This is the best use for the space,” Ailshie said, adding that other uses, including CTE, would cost more than the $666,000 estimate to convert the space for JROTC use.


•Work on the new secure entrance for D-B soon will be under way, using already appropriated funds to cover the low bid from Bracken & Associates of $76,489 plus some contingencies. Funding includes some Qualified School Construction Bond money, with about $70,000 still left to go toward a secure entrance at Jackson Elementary, which is the only school in the system without a secure entrance.


•More of the $1.5 million in capital funds may be used to convert the old caretaker’s apartment at D-B into two classrooms. The cost of $120,000 may seem a bit steep, Ailshie said, but is cheaper than building new space, although he said further space needs at D-B could include a building between the D-B building and Legion Center and/or a new storage facility for band use on the end of campus near Eastman Road.


Dan Carper, director of facilities management, said the project would include adding new doors and blocking up at least one.


•New lighting for J. Fred Johnson Stadium, to cost around $400,000, could be paid for out of the $1.5 million. That would reduce the estimated $4 million cost of grandstand renovations and addition of about 1,500 net new seats to 3,800 existing ones. A consultant has recommended that option, although Mayor Dennis Phillips said he believes $750,000 in contingency fees could be cut from that, bringing the total price down to about $3.25 million.


•Ailshie said the board needs to decide if it has a use for Midland Center, across Fort Henry Drive from D-B. Frontier Health and a private dentist’s office are interested in parts of the property, which could be declared surplus by the BOE and then the city and sold. Cooper asked if the school system would get all or any of the proceeds from the sale of the property, and Montgomery said that could be discussed with city officials.


•And Ailshie said the board needs to decide what to do with the property it recently bought next to Indian Highland Park. A privately owned slice of land still remains, which Carper said could not be used for parking without permission.

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