Wednesday, May 30, 2012

$95 an hour to retrieve school board emails

After the Observer requested emails related to travel spending sent by school board members in May, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools public information department responded with this cost estimate from Southeastern Technology Group, which archives emails for CMS.

CMS communications head LaTarzja Henry said emails less than a month old are generally retrieved free by CMS staff,  and she was not sure why her staff had sought a proposal from the contractor rather than launching in-house retrieval.  She said she believes the recent emails can be provided at no cost,  but offered no timetable.

Mecklenburg County recently created a 26-page public records policy detailing how emails and other records should be handled and provided to the public. CMS has no such policy,  instead relying on N.C. public records law,  Henry said. The N.C. Records Services Branch also provides this guidance on public school records.  Both the law and the guidelines are complex, with room for interpretation on allowable fees.

Friday, May 11, 2012

CMS awards iPads but slows wifi rollout

The rumors are true:  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools won't be inviting all students and staff to bring their own tablets and smartphones to school in August after all. The January announcement of the sweeping "bring your own technology" plan raised interest and questions, and the March departure of the technology chief who was leading the plan started people buzzing that it wouldn't happen on schedule.

After the Observer asked repeatedly about the status of the project, CMS offered this report on the results of a competition among teaching teams who wanted iPads to use in class: "The 970 Innovation for Transformation grant applications submitted by professional learning communities in 153 schools have been reviewed, and the scoring committee has awarded grants to 73 schools. Each grant will provide an iPad for each member of the PLC and a classroom set of 10 iPads for each classroom teacher in the PLC. A total of 3,970 iPads will be available for student use."

And interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh provided this update on rolling out wireless internet access:

We are continuing to build the wireless infrastructure in our schools to accommodate the Bring Your Own Technology initiative. We’ve got wireless networks now at 151 of 159 schools. We are being deliberate and thoughtful as we upgrade technology at our schools, and the work is being done in phases.

We have budgeted $10.6 million for this work: $6.6 million for infrastructure, $3.5 million for devices and $500,000 for professional development. The first phase is the wireless installation at all schools, which should be finished by early summer except at a handful of schools undergoing construction this summer. The wireless installation comes first because it will enable the iPad grant winners to use their new devices.

Next, we’ll set up guest wireless networks which will allow students and staff to use their own devices. Right now, our networks are closed to outside devices to keep the school environment secure.

We also want to be sure that our staff and students are prepared for these changes in technology. We will need to add specific expectations for wireless usage – an acceptable-use policy -- to the student code of conduct. We will need to train our teachers and staff so that we get the maximum academic benefit from the technology. We also want to be sure that we provide equal access to the benefits across the district.

So we are proceeding carefully and in phases. Once the wireless infrastructure is complete, we’ll begin this summer installing guest-wireless networks at pilot schools in each zone. We haven’t made final decisions yet on which schools or how many – but I can say that there is a lot of interest on the part of the schools. We’re getting lots of requests to be part of the pilot. The final decision on pilot schools will be made by our zone superintendents in collaboration with our IT team.

The guest wireless networks will be filtered, just as district internet access is filtered now. They will also be a secure environment. We will train our teachers and other school personnel so that this increased access is used appropriately and effectively in all schools. We’ll continue to share information about decisions as they are made. It’s important to also keep in mind that all of the technology we’re using and will use in the near future is supplemental, not required for students to learn.