NORWALK, Conn. – Come the beginning of March, Norwalk elementary school students should be able to use inexpensive yet versatile laptops via newly installed Wi-Fi at school to take the Smarter Balance Assessment, a testing program that is aligned with Common Core State Standards.
The Norwalk Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to purchase Chromebooks, using nearly $423,000 from the $600,000 carrying over in the budget from the 2012-2013 school year. The company E-Plus was chosen to install Wi-Fi at all the schools, while Cisco/Meraki will provide the hardware and controller solutions.
The network will not crash, although all of the computing and data storage will be done online, Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi said.
“As we put these pieces in I’ll be able to look at a controller that’s accessable through the internet and be able to see what devices are being used where,” Valenzisi said. “When it comes time for certain things like the Smarter Balance assessment we can make sure that only these computers get priority on the bandwidth. So if someone has their iPhone connected, that would be cut off at that time frame so we don’t have a problem with the assessments. This is one of the reasons you see the project at $1.4 million. It’s not to exceed that and we will come in under that.”
The Chromebooks, a Google product, do not use software. Board member Steve Colarossi asked why this was better, saying there are deficiencies in Google Drive programs, such as spreadsheets and word processing.
Valenzisi said most people don’t use 90 percent of the capabilities of Microsoft’s popular software Word.
“I actually sit on the national advisory committee for Microsoft for K-12 education,” he said. “So for me to say that we’re moving towards a more Chrome environment is a pretty strong statement.”
Board member Artie Kassimis asked why Chromebooks were chosen over iPads. Valenzisi said Chromebooks have Flash, enabling certain types of animations used for teaching.
The “wonderful instructional tool” will be more versatile for more types of programs and be accessible to the staff. They will be used for 90 percent of the teaching, with full computers still being used for computer assisted design, art and music and iPads still in use for other things and Macs for art and music.
Most American K-12 schools are going to Chrome, he said.
“We will be able to give students access outside of school by logging onto a Google Chrome browser on any other device,” he said.
Bids for the Wi-Fi installation came in at between $550,000 and $4 million, most of them between $1 million and $1.7 million. The Wi-Fi will be available to visitors at the schools via a guest password, but students will have priority.
“One of the key 21st century skills we want to give them is the ability to collaborate,” Valenzisi said. “Having these tools available to them anywhere will allow teachers to start to deliver that type of instruction. Since most of our resources are already web-based it actually offers us a very versatile solution to be able to give kids access outside of the school system if they can just get onto any other type of tablet or computer.”