Fort Mill School District cuts the cord

joverman@fortmilltimes.comOctober 25, 2012 

— The Fort Mill School District has made its first steps in a plan to provide wireless Internet access at all of its 13 schools.

Wireless access went live at Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools on Oct. 15. The schools are taking advantage of the technology with new Chromebooks, laptops made by Google that provides easy access to Google applications such as Google Docs. Google Docs stores documents online, allowing students to access classroom documents anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Both high schools received 60 Chromebooks. Some of the Chromebooks are available for teachers to check out as needed for classroom activities. Others are dedicated for use in certain classrooms.

In Fort Mill High School’s AP European History class, each student has use of a Chromebook during class, Principal Dee Christopher said. He expects they will be used in part for taking notes, but also to allow students to create documents and presentations together, sharing them and changing them instantly via Google Docs.

Christopher knows firsthand the benefits of using a wireless device in a classroom. Christopher is enrolled in a PhD program and uses his iPad to take notes, pull up the class syllabus and access articles recommended by the instructor.

Christopher and other administrators at the high school also use iPads on the job.

“We’re not tied to our desk and computer to find students,” he said. “We can really supervise by walking around a lot more. If I see a student in the hall, I can look up where they are supposed to be.”

In an emergency situation, such as an evacuation, the student database is easily accessed via iPad, he said. Additionally, Christopher could access the district’s Alert Now system to inform parents of a situation at the school, “within minutes of whatever is going on,” he said.

“The communication part is key.”

Middle and elementary schools are also being set up for wireless access and will be given laptops or wireless devices for use in classrooms. The district’s technology staff is working with each school’s administration to determine what type of wireless computer or tablet will be best for their school. Middle schools are expected to have wireless Internet access by mid-November and elementary schools by the end of December. The cost of installing wireless internet access in the district was $300,000.

The Chromebooks cost $80,000.

The district used an annual bond dedicated for technology, maintenance or transportation costs to fund the wireless installation and $50,000 for the Chromebooks. An additional $30,000 also was pulled from the general fund to pay for Chromebooks.

Eventually, the district plans to allow students to bring their own wireless devices to use at school. That will require a change to the district’s current policy, which prohibits electronic devices between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. District officials are unsure of when that change will take place.

“The district wants to do this right,” said district spokesperson Kelly McKinney.

“We need to insure our bandwidth will support the influx of devices, that we have the applicable network controls in place, that our policies are clearly defined and communicated to the public, and that we have a plan in place to supply devices to those students who do not own a device of their own. And most importantly, that the devices our integrated in a way that supports our curriculum.”

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