Until a couple of weeks ago, the state of technology in the Payson Unified School District remained ‘The Mystery Behind the Curtain’ — for a reason.
At its board meeting the last week of August, Director of Technology Joni de Szendeffy stepped out from behind the curtain to reveal the dire straits of technology at PUSD in the hopes of winning approval of a lengthy wish list to improve district technology and move into the 21st century.
“I hear a consistent cry for better technology in the schools,” said de Szendeffy.
She went on to describe the 18 years of accumulated wiring deficiencies, a rickety router that will soon see its 20th birthday, network switches 15 years old that lack capacity, PCs with slow processors, a 12-year-old telephone system that only has parts available on eBay, a DOS-based voice mail system ready to collapse, unreliable backup systems and inadequate security cameras.
Although the district has benefitted from recent big increases in Internet speeds throughout town, state budget cuts have forced it to patch together outdated equipment. However, the district got a rare piece of good news lately when it learned the Mogollon Health Alliance landed a federal grant that could provide money for new equipment.
However, the report before the board focused on how far behind the district has fallen in updating computers in the classrooms.
In addition, the Information Technology (IT) department lacks policies regarding Internet awareness, education and use of mobile and wireless devices, inadequate Web development and parental Web communications, as well as an inability to provide 100 percent secure data storage for students — all of which hobble the district’s ability to move into the increasingly tech-driven world.
“We have so many customers — students, parents, teachers and the board,” said de Szendeffy.
Her top priorities for the district:
Like a traffic light, it helps find the fastest route over the Internet for data to leave and arrive. Although a new generation of router technology hits the market every 18 months, the 18-year-old PUSD router leaves the district mired in the tar bits of the technological dinosaur age.
New routers can cost more then $3,000.
Implement a new back-up system to protect critical data from a crash. “Our back-up system has been Band-Aided,” said de Szendeffy.
Replace switches to gig size — at least in critical locations. “It can cost up to $400,000 to replace gig switches,” said de Szendeffy.
Switches enable the network of computers to communicate both internally and externally. With the volumes of data collected each day on attendance, grades, personnel, students, facilities, budget, e-mails, etc., de Szendeffy said with the old equipment they can often cannot transfer data. That will cause big problems next year when Arizona and the federal government will require increased reporting.
Additional and improved bandwidth. Bandwidth kicks into play when streaming or downloading data.
Someone watching a video online uses more bandwidth than someone who has accessed a Webpage and is reading the content. The school’s bandwidth limits the number of users who can access the system at any one time.
Phone and voice mail
Purchase a new phone and voice mail system. Teachers often complain to de Szendeffy that they do not receive voice mails. “Staff needs to have a reliable communication system,” she said.
Yet de Szendeffy said all the news does not include doom and gloom. In the last three years, the technology department has had successes.
— Increased bandwidth from 7 megabits per second, to 45 overall on local area networks from 2.5 megabits per second to 33.
— Upgraded the software on school PCs to Windows XP and Hewlett Packard hardware.
— Added three lab/work areas in the Payson High School library.
— Built a third, 30-person computer lab and a small science lab at the high school.
— Upgraded the middle school computer lab.
— Created a state-of-the-art engineering lab at the high school.
— Provided laptops for Payson Center for Success, the alternative high school that does most of its work online.
— Partnered with the Mogollon Health Alliance for a distance learning grant that could provide several hundred thousand dollars for upgraded equipment.
That grant offers the first gleam of hope in several years, when it comes to finding the money to upgrade campus technology.
“If we could have that grant we could solve so many tech issues ...,” said de Szendeffy.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock has said the board needs to decide if budget dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible.
At the end of de Szendeffy’s presentation, the board agreed it must address the district’s technology needs.
“Technology is the future and this board needs to make this a priority,” said board member Kim Pound.