Schools set for technology upgrade

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LAUSD: Bond funds to pay for Wi-Fi installation at 138 campuses by 2014.

By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer

Posted: 12/18/2011 02:31:50 PM PST

Updated: 12/18/2011 02:42:47 PM PST

Courtesy of Los Angeles Daily News:

Nearly 140 Los Angeles Unified schools that lack Wi-Fi access will get a technology upgrade over the next several years, using $99 million in voter-approved bond funds.

About 50 schools in the San Fernando Valley are among the 138 campuses that will benefit from the modernization program approved last week by the school board.

Officials say the upgrade will free teachers and students from having to use computers only in hard-wired classrooms, offering greater flexibility in devising more creative lesson plans and better learning tools.

“We want a system that gives high-density, industrial-strength technology to every school,” Ron Chandler, the district’s chief information officer, said during a committee meeting on the plan. “We want every school to be wireless.”

Timing of the Wi-Fi program is becoming increasingly critical.

Los Angeles Unified uses a wireless-based program called DIBELS that assesses literacy skills for every student in grades K-3 and special-education students in K-5/6. Elementary schools that lack Wi-Fi capability cannot use the system.

Schools will also have to have at least a basic Wi-Fi system in place by 2014, when California implements the Common Core State Standards. The new standards and instructional materials rely heavily on computer skills to prepare K-12 students for college.

District officials had hoped to pay for the wireless upgrades through federal subsidies, but haven’t able toget the money in a timely manner.

Board member Tamar Galatzan devised a plan to pay for the IT projects using revenue from bond projects that haven’t yet begun, and to back-fill those funds once the subsidies come through.

“We had to find a way to come up with $99 million so that every student at every school has access to a computer,” Galatzan said.

The estimated cost and scope of the upgrades differs by campus. It will cost less than $150,000 to upgrade the 11-year-old system at Zane Grey Continuation High School in Reseda but more than $2 million to modernize the 10-year-old network at Monroe High School in North Hills.

For the teachers, those improvements can’t come quickly enough.

“The students have more technology in their pockets than we do in schools,” said Lewis Chappalear, an engineering teacher at Monroe.

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