Chippewa to install $1.1 million in technology upgrades

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published July 30, 2013

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Increased security at the front entrances of 18 schools is part of an extensive series of improvements being made throughout Chippewa Valley Schools this summer.

The entire project includes more than $1.1 million in technology upgrades at every building in the district. It is part of the $89 million capital improvement bond extension that district residents approved in February 2010. According to Diane Blain, director of school and community relations for Chippewa Valley Schools, this vote of confidence has allowed the district to stay ahead of the technological curve.

“Through the support of our community, we have been able to enhance the security of our buildings and provide our students with cutting-edge technology,” she said via email. “Our students are learning in high-tech classrooms using equipment and technology that you would find in today’s tech-savvy business environment. These new initiatives will allow us to continue to engage our students through the use of instructional technology.”

A key component of the project will involve the installation of door buzzers and surveillance cameras at the main entrances to each of the district’s 12 elementary schools and four middle schools, as well as at the Little Turtle Early Childhood Center and Mohegan High School, an alternative-education facility. These security upgrades, which will cost about $47,000, were approved by the Board of Education in May. Superintendent Ron Roberts has stated that they were developed directly in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

According to Director of Technology Craig McBain, the improvements are part of a larger, district-wide project to replace the outdated phone system in place at every school building. The new equipment includes about 2,100 Internet protocol phones that offer an enhanced 911 early response system, superior internal messaging and video screens for live chatting and conferencing.

“We need those video screens for the new door buzzer system so that people in the front offices can see any visitors before they let them in the building,” McBain explained. “Having that technology integrated into our phone system has really simplified this part of the process and given us a great deal more flexibility.”

After the Sandy Hook shooting, the district began using its pool of substitute teachers as uniformed greeters at every school building. Then, in January, Chippewa Valley administration announced that it was hiring unarmed security guards to protect the entrances to all of its schools for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year. The district also began prohibiting parents from entering school buildings with their children at the beginning and end of the day.

However, these changes upset some parents, who felt that the increased security was an overreaction that was causing anxiety among their children and creating an unwelcome barrier between students and parents. By installing the door buzzers and surveillance cameras, Roberts said, district officials were seeking a less intrusive means of boosting security that would not make their schools feel like a prison or otherwise distract students from getting an education.

Blain added that safety is of the utmost importance to the district.

“If children don’t feel safe at school, it has an impact on student learning,” she said. “We have always maintained safe schools, but it’s equally important to continually review what you’re doing to see where you can make improvements.”

McBain pointed out that the security upgrades should be in place at most schools by the start of the 2013-14 school year. However, six of the buildings may take a little longer, due to the need for additional hardware.

Another big technology improvement being implemented this summer is the virtualization of more than 7,000 student computers across the district. As McBain explained, this will involve installing a “big black box” called a V Block that will allow his department to use one computer as a district-wide host for all the programs that teachers and students need.

“As long as students have an Internet connection, they can connect to our virtual computer remotely,” he said. “They don’t even need to have their own computer — they can also use tablets and other devices. So if they have homework, they will have access to everything they use in class when they’re at home. For us as a district, this system will be much more economical and sustainable and make it a lot quicker and easier for us to upgrade our software.”

In addition, the district is installing “a much more robust, modern and powerful” wireless Internet system that is equipped to handle the needs of all its schools, McBain said. He noted that in the past, as the district has grown, it often has not had enough wireless bandwidth to accommodate its staff and students and has been forced to kick people off its network in order to free up more space.

All students will also receive their own Chippewa Valley email address as part of this upgrade. McBain estimated that the new wireless system would be fully up and running by the end of October, while January 2014 will see the district improving its computers with the installation of Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2013.

“The bottom line is that all of these projects will make school better for our students,” McBain said. “We want them to be able to have access to all the technology they need, whenever they want and wherever they want. We’re trying to close the digital divide by giving them the same type of mobility that modern workers have. I think this will be a huge step forward that will enhance the communication between our students and teachers.”

Blain stressed that above all else, modern technology is a crucial part of “engaging today’s modern learner. At Chippewa Valley,” she said, “we are fortunate to have resources and people devoted to instructional technology. Teachers and staff are always sharing new lesson ideas and best practices when it comes to using technology in the classroom. The kids love it, and it makes learning fun and exciting.”