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Can't teach without 'tech'

Bainbridge schools lack computers for students.

Enrique Chee is stumped by a math problem. The Bainbridge High School physics teacher can’t divide 30 by 10 to get 2.

The numbers just don’t work – and neither do physics labs, when 30 students share 10 computers. Students in Chee’s class must work in teams of three, and that often means one is “odd man out.”

“Research has shown that with three or four (students) per computer, you lose a kid,” he said.

For Chee’s physics classes – as for biology and chemistry classes – computers are a necessity because they support the probes used to measure everything from motion, sound and light to conductivity, pH balance and ultraviolet waves.

Senior Anna Sperling, a student in Chee’s class, agrees that the lack of computers makes her studies harder.

“It is not very easy because when there are more than two, the other people aren’t very involved,” Sperling said. “The ones who use the computers, they’re fine, but the others don’t understand the lab very well because they’re just watching it.”

But Chee’s students are relatively lucky; other science classrooms in the district have no computers at all, or only a few. Students don’t get to do labs, and simply watch demonstrations instead.

Such challenges are not confined to the BHS science program; the school district that is ranked second in state academically is not up to speed in technology, thanks to sluggish networking, old computers, under-trained staff and limited technical support.

“We are at the bottom,” said Randy Orwin, technology director for the school district. “It’s bad. It’s the worst I’ve seen.”

A technology levy that would help bring the district up to speed is being developed on a parallel track with a capital facilities bond for new buildings. The first step is drawing up a list of needs to present for public consideration this spring.

The bond measure and levy, both of which could go before voters in February 2005, are interdependent, Orwin says.

“A prime example of that might be a teacher scrounging up a bunch of money and wanting to put 20 computers in the classroom, but the change would be impossible without the addition of more power in the room,” Orwin said.

Another is the regulation of temperature in standard classrooms converted to computer labs; the machines generate enough heat to bring rooms up to 85 degrees.

While some computer-related infrastructure is up to date, other pieces needed to support technology are not. Of 16 computer servers supported by the network administrator, nine are six years old – significantly outdated, with the rapid growth in computer speed and capacity. The machines are slower than the workstations they serve.

Less than half of the district’s staff is networked at the industry standard of 100 megabits per second; the balance poke along at one-tenth that speed, making filesharing and other networking glacially slow.

When the district moves to fiberoptics this summer – Qwest, chosen as the district’s server, “lights the fiber” in early July – networking speed between buildings will increase by a factor of 67.

Old machines

But schools will still need computers and software to support that speed. Of the district’s 1,500 computers – one-third used by staff, the rest by students – 70 percent are four years old or older. Other districts replace equipment after four or five years, Orwin says.

“We need to renew every four years in order to be able to run current applications,” he said.

At Bainbridge High School, the library has just four computer work stations in the main room; 28 others in an adjoining lab are older machines with broken drives.

Libraries in district schools use different software, and no two schools have the same version of any one program, so librarians can’t share information about resources.

The problem has much to do with the changing nature of libraries, particularly in Bainbridge High School’s aging 200 Building – the library was not designed to support technology.

“When this building was built (in 1977), the concept of a library was a place to store books,” Learning Resources Specialist Mike Roe said. “We’ve had some upgrades, but not enough.”

Other curricula also face technological deficits: Special education students need more equipment and assistive software to read, write and communicate, such as text scanning and voice recognition software. Vocational education at BHS needs equipment for new classes that include video production, web design, economics and accounting.

“We did the last renovation in 1981, when there still wasn’t such a thing as a (personal) computer,” Schools Superintendent Ken Crawford said. Other district technologies need replacement as well; the telephone system is a decade old. Bus and emergency radios need updating.

But equipment is not the only issue; there are too few technical support staff, district-wide.

“That’s a huge problem, Orwin said, “because the state average runs about one technician per 480 machines.

“In our current environment, we’re about one technician per 1,000 machines.”

At the high school, a librarian doubles as tech support, while a paraeducator who monitors 300 Building labs, also helps implement a new attendance system; works as the BHS discipline officer; and is a lab proctor.

In contrast, Orwin points to North Kitsap schools, with a full-time tech para-educator at every building.

Bainbridge schools have $4,800 this year to train staff in new technology.

The industry standard, according to Orwin, is 30 percent of the cost of hardware devoted to training.

“Without training, what you’ve got is a lot of real expensive paperweights,” Orwin said.

District-wide upgrades and changes will come at a cost to voters, school officials admit, but they believe there is a price for neglecting to make improvements.

“We need to make sure that our facilities are consistent with the high expectations we have for students’ learning,” Crawford said. “We have first-class teachers, parents and students, and we need comparable facilities.”

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