North Allegheny elementary schools to get $4 million in tech improvements

Updates will include wireless technology

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The North Allegheny School District has 400 laptops in a closet, ready to help elementary students learn.

But the computers can't be used until the 14-year-old wiring in the schools is upgraded, school board members heard at their April 24 meeting.

The board that night voted to finance $4 million in technology improvements through a low-interest loan from PNC Bank. Projects include replacing the network infrastructure equipment and upgraded data wiring for all seven elementary schools and installing wireless coverage in each district building.

Wireless technology, at this point, is only in the intermediate and senior high schools, said Bill Phillips, senior manager of information technology.

The work will be financed over seven years at an annual cost not to exceed $610,719.50.

Board member Christopher Jacobs voted against the $4 million loan, saying he wanted to have a clearer picture of the district's finances for the 2014-15 school year, when these improvements will likely take place.

The elementary wiring from 1999 does not support most of the devices available today, administrators said.

"Right now, we have iPads that we would like to use in buildings but we cannot use them," said superintendent Raymond Gualtieri. "We are really far behind."

Mr. Phillips said that, as laptops are replaced at the high school, the old ones have been put aside for use by elementary students.

Elementary teachers are limited with only two computer labs for students in 30 sections, said James Bradley, director of elementary education.

"If we have the capability, the opportunities are endless," he said.

Administrators and board members offered some examples of what can be done with wireless technology in the elementary schools:

• Mr. Gualtieri said that, in his former school district, students took an "electronic field trip" to Antarctica.

"We have a lot of people here who are well-trained and have a lot of skills and, because the infrastructure is so archaic, they are not able to do that," he said.

• Arleen Wheat, assistant superintendent for special education and pupil services, said technology can help educators develop individualized education plans for students -- and can also help the students.

The speech and language pathologists have turned iPads into "communication devices for students who are nonverbal," she said.

• The Pennsylvania State System of Assessment tests and Keystone Exams are available to be taken online. "We were afraid to do it because we are afraid to put all of our students onto a network all at one time," Ms. Wheat said.

• Board member Linda Bishop said she saw technology in action when she visited a neighboring district that has "whiteboards" in elementary classrooms.

"The teacher can create a lesson on her laptop at home, take it into the classroom and plug it into the whiteboard," she said.

She said one teacher created videos of vocabulary words. One vocabulary word for first-graders was "scampering," and the video showed squirrels and rats scampering.

"I can tell you that there isn't a first-grader in that classroom who doesn't understand the word 'scampering' and can use it in a sentence," she added.

Mr. Phillips said interactive projectors now available turn any wall into a whiteboard at less cost.

"Probably what we are going to recommend the board buy in two years isn't even on the market yet," Mr. Gualtieri added.

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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