School needs high-speed internet sooner than later

Sat, 10/28/2017 - 7:00am

Block Island School Principal Kristine Monje's “big goal” is to get the school connected to high-speed internet service as soon as possible — in fact, sooner than connections to other town facilities.

“We're approaching the Broadband Committee on how to get the school connected to the internet quicker than the entire town,” Monje told the School Committee at its Oct. 16 meeting. She said that the technology could include “a mix” of fiber optic lines and a roof-mounted wireless device, but offered no details.

“If it all falls in place,” she added, “it could happen within months, not years.”

Reporting to the School Committee on her involvement with the Town's Broadband Committee, Monje said that the school “needed a voice at the table.” The broadband group was appointed by the Town Council to develop and recommend a solution that would utilize the fiber optic strands in the National Grid’s sea2shore electric transmission cable. This would introduce a high-speed connection to the mainland's internet network and distribute internet service throughout the island.

Monje and School Superintendent Dr. Judith Lundsten said that improving internet access is essential for the school to keep pace with the educational system and the R.I. Department of Education's expectations. No one on the Committee disagreed.

The Block Island School currently leases three “T-1” lines from Verizon, each with a capacity of 1.5 megabytes. All the school's computers connect to the internet through a wired and wireless network with two servers, four hot spots and 31 access points to serve the approximately 120 students plus the faculty and administration, with a combined 4.5 megabytes.

The current recommendation is one megabyte of bandwidth for each student, Lundsten said. “I have more access at home” on the mainland “than in the entire building,” she added.

The discussion of broadband access followed a presentation by Michael Waterman, Director of Technology for the North Kingstown Public Schools, who has brought his staff to the island to oversee and consult with the B.I. School on instructional technology.

“What he did this summer,” said Lundsten of Waterman, was a survey and inventory of the school's existing infrastructure. The goals for the 2017-2018 school year, Waterman said, include reviewing policies on internet filtering and other subjects, determining the best use of the school's 55 Chromebook computers intended for students, and developing a capital plan and schedule to “refresh” the equipment, including upgrading or replacing the building's network so it will be ready for whatever technology solution the Broadband Committee develops.

The choices on the network, he said, are to renew licenses on the existing network access points (now three years old, with two years remaining on the licenses) or to upgrade to newer technology.

Committee member Elizabeth Connor (presiding in the absence of Chair Bill Padien) asked Waterman for the cost of the alternatives. “Is it all or nothing?”

“It's all or nothing,” Waterman responded. He did not have an amount, but said he had supervised changing over two North Kingstown schools from older access point equipment to newer gear, at a cost of $150,000 including six-year licenses.

Waterman also told the Committee that a decision must be made whether to use an Apple or Windows operating system. The school currently has computers using both platforms.

Lundsten noted that the parent who has been the school's webmaster resigned on Friday Oct. 13. The school's Technology Committee has discussed Waterman's offer to “piggyback” the island school's website on the North Kingstown schools' site. He estimated the contractor's price to set up a website would be $800, with an annual fee for webmaster services.

The new arrangement, Lundsten added, would allow her and other staff to add information to a web page without going through the webmaster. It would allow the school “not only to communicate better but also to celebrate better.”

The Superintendent asked, and received, permission from the Committee to investigate the website replacement with North Kingstown's contractor.

The School Committee's next meetings will be Nov. 13 and Dec. 11, both at 7 p.m. at the school.