On Board Online • September 19, 2022
By Sal Prividera
More than 50 New York State school districts will be able to upgrade their technology and security this school year thanks to the state's Smart Schools Bond Act.
The $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act was approved by state voters in November 2014. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced school allocations worth $24.8 million in May.
The state's Smart Schools Review Board approved project plans submitted by 45 school districts and two special education schools. The plans include $14.5 million in spending on classroom technology, $7.8 million on high-tech security, and $2.5 million on school connectivity.
New technology purchases supported by the bond act include computer servers, interactive whiteboards, tablets, desktop and laptop computers, and high-speed broadband and wireless connectivity. The act also provides funding for high-tech security tools including entry control systems, video systems and emergency classroom notification systems.
"The pandemic laid bare the digital divide in our state, and as we continue to recover from the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in violence amongst young people," said state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa. "This latest round of Smart Schools funding prioritizes these two critical areas by expanding the number of devices for students and providing money for school security infrastructure. When our students are safe and able to engage in meaningful learning, we begin to see their true potential."
Among the districts with big upgrades are Greater Johnstown School District in Fulton County, Indian River in northern New York and Jamesville-Dewitt near Syracuse.
Johnstown to invest $1 million in school safety
The Greater Johnstown district has five campuses in Fulton County, and it received an allocation of slightly more than $1 million to fund its comprehensive safety plan, which includes enhancing security features throughout its campuses, according to Superintendent William Crankshaw.
The district has plans to install additional video cameras to expand coverage and increase its ability to record and store video records, he said. However, the equipment still hasn't arrived.
Additionally, the district plans to update its building access control systems including designating specific visitor entry doors with video and audio controls that enable staff to vet any individual wishing to enter the building. The project will also enable the district to update emergency communication systems in each of its schools.
Indian River focuses on classroom technology
Indian River, which has eight schools serving students in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, received a total of $4.4 million for its classroom technology and school connectivity plans. The district will upgrade 152 interactive display panels and install integrated sound equipment for all classrooms, according to Superintendent Troy Decker. The district will also spend $221,000 of the funds to upgrade network infrastructure including wiring, wireless networking and network switches. The smart school funding will also qualify the district for an additional $500,000 federal grant for additional network infrastructure upgrades.
"The interactive panels allow us to focus on a student-centered approach . (that) will increase student engagement and participation," said Decker, adding that the timeline to make these upgrades would have been five to six years without the state funding. The upgraded PA and sound systems will apply teacher classroom speech to benefit all students, especially those with sensory challenges.
The audio system upgrades will also enhance student safety via direct connection to the emergency notification system and teacher lanyard microphones with emergency notification capability, he said.
Jamesville-Dewitt to improve connectivity
Jamesville-Dewitt, which has five schools located in Onondaga County, received $1 million for its school connectivity plan. The district will replace outdated network cabling connecting classrooms and servers, and construct secure locations for network equipment, said Superintendent Peter Smith.
The state grant allowed the district to "ensure both our technology infrastructure and our physical plant are being upgraded in a timely manner," said Peter Reyes, assistant superintendent for education services. He noted that the grant allowed the district to fund the work without seeking approval for capital project funding or securing a bond. Both of those approaches would have likely delayed the project.
The district's last networking upgrade was completed in 2013 and the need to upgrade was identified following an outside assessment of the district's current technology capabilities, Reyes said. The refresh cycle for networking infrastructure is typically five to eight years to ensure security and reliability, he said. The upgrades will ensure the security of student information and the reliability of the network for all functions including student learning, transportation routing, operations of security cameras, HVAC and personnel operations.
The Smart School Bond Act was billed as an initiative to finance educational technology and infrastructure, providing students access to the latest technology and connectivity needed to compete and succeed in the 21st-century economy. A Smart Schools Commission was established to gather information on strategies for how schools can most effectively invest the bond funds. This advisory commission recommended a focus on expanding robust broadband and wireless connectivity and utilizing transformative technologies. The Smart Schools Review Board reviews plans submitted by school districts and approves the funding allocations.