With a new national assessment of college readiness on the horizon that will take the place of MCAS and encourage the use of more computers and tablets, the expansion of wireless Internet in Braintree Public Schools is a key component of an ongoing technology improvement plan.
"It's like having a car that won't shift into third gear," School Committee member Tom Devin said. "It's getting these implements of learning up to full speed."
As part of the fiscal year 2014 budget process, department heads have been presenting their funding priorties for review by the School Committee. Among the technology requests put in by Director of Mathematics Dr. William Kendall, along with iPads, projectors and upgraded phone service, is $150,000 to bring wireless Internet to Braintree High School.
Right now, Morrison and Ross are the only Braintree schools with full wireless capability. The district was able to receive federal funding to make them wireless because with the amount of low-income students enrolled they qualify as Title I schools.
"This actually worked out extremely well for us," Dr. Kendall said in an email. "It allowed us to establish protocols for wireless and to determine how wireless changed teaching and learning. We are very happy with the results."
A study performed by an outside firm estimated that it would cost $1,000 per classroom for wireless at the high school, according to Dr. Kendall's budget presentation.
"It could be somewhat difficult," Braintree Electric Light Department GM Bill Bottiggi said.
Because BHS is a concrete structure and because of the way it was designed, the project could require a wireless router in each of the school's 150 classrooms, Bottiggi said. In a typical house a router can feed Internet out 50 or 100 feet, but that is a building of wood and plaster.
"We could work with them on it," Bottiggi said, though he also said BELD had not been approached about the project recently.
After the high school, next up would be East and South middle schools, followed by the rest of the elementary schools. The goal, dependent on funding approvals by the School Committee and Town Council, is to expand wireless throughout the district over the next three years.
Massachusetts is among two dozen states who have signed on to implement The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, also known as the Common Core standards. The K-12 assessments aim, in part, to encourage the use of technology in learning and would use computers as a vital part of the tests themselves.
The Department of Education recommends two students per computer for the testing, but Braintree is not close to that ratio, Dr. Kendall said. As for wireless, it is difficult to determine where Braintree stands compared to other Massachusetts districts.
"I can point you to schools that are way ahead of us, and point you to schools that are behind us," Dr. Kendall said. "The Massachusetts Department of Education does not survey this. What is clear is that wireless positively impacts teaching and learning and is the best way to plan for the enormous technology needed by PARCC."
For some districts, having wireless in their schools means they have been able to transition from textbooks to iPads. This year, Archbishop Williams High School rolled out the tablets, filled with electronic books. In Burlington, 1,200 students received iPads last fall and the town is working to make every school wireless capable.
Braintree has seen success so far with iPads for students requiring remediation, students with autism and those in ELL who are new to the system, Dr. Kendall said. The district has stopped short of widespread purchasing because of the limited number of textbooks available on the devices and distribution problems.
"It's important to have the right resources available for teachers to use for instruction," Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg said.
Still, the superintendent said, "We're at a point where expanding technology is as important as basic instructional material for our students."