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Kingsport superintendent wants more technology in schools

August 25th, 2012 9:32 pm by Rick Wagner

KINGPSORT — Get ready for a refined but heavy focus on technology in Kingsport schools from a self-described “technology geek.”

Superintendent Lyle Ailshie is ready to move forward with a technology vision for Kingsport City Schools, pending approval by the Board of Education.

He presented an abbreviated version of the working draft to the board recently and plans to present the final product to the board next month.

The first component, buying iPads or some other wireless device for all teachers in the system — at an estimated cost of $399 each — may come before the board for a vote at its September meeting. It would be funded by part of the estimated $920,000 in additional Sullivan County property tax revenues coming to the school system from a property tax rate increase.

The nuts and bolts of the process includes bringing wireless to all 12 city school buildings. The BOE already has approved putting wireless in Dobyns-Bennett High School, Robinson Middle and Sevier Middle. Thursday night, Ailshie presented a summary estimate of the cost to put it in the eight elementary schools, Cora Cox Academy, the alternative school, and the Palmer Center.

“We possibly, if we do this, could have all our buildings wireless by Christmas,” Ailshie said.

He said technology, including wireless Internet, is “one of the very few areas this school system is behind others.”

Sullivan County is in the second year of a “bring your own device” program at Sullivan South High School and a school-provided iPad program at Holston Middle School. In addition, the Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee — a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) grades 6-7 school — is to provide iPads to each student during the school year.

And across the Virginia line, Scott County schools installed wireless access points in schools there.

Four of the eight Kingsport elementary schools have existing wireless, but Ailshie said they all need updates. In addition, he said the Roosevelt Elementary system can be added to, but the core must remain for another year because it was purchased with federal Title I money.

The estimate for the 10 buildings is $215,516, although technology coordinator John Payne said that probably is high. The work at the high school and middle schools is expected to be done by mid-October, he said.

The wireless fits into a technology vision of Ailshie, who has said he is a “technology geek” and emphasized the system needs to embrace technology, including smart phones, iPads, tablets and such, rather than ban or limit them.

In 18 to 24 months, he said, the plan is for the system to be at the “front of the pack” in technology.

The draft plan is to start with a base of infrastructure upon which wired and wireless connectivity to the Internet is built.

On top of that is a learning platform, which for a year will be Edvance 360 because the school system can get it free. After that, it will cost about $35,000 to $40,000 a year, but Ailshie said that is less than other comparable or lesser programs.

Edvance 360 and other systems can support Web-enhanced instruction, online learning courses and online degree programs.

It is a cloud of sorts around all that is professional learning, which Ailshie said is a key component of teaching teachers how to utilize technology in the classroom and their teaching.

The idea, he said, is not using technology for technology’s sake but to use it as a tool to make education more collaborative, promote differential learning and formative assessment, be more effective and efficient, motivate students, promote professional learning, be relevant to the 21st century, give students ownership in learning, and engage students.

“I’m very excited about this because I support it,” BOE member Betsy Cooper said, adding that many students and parents already are using wireless devices at home.

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