Quincy School District making progress on Knapheide-sponsored tech upgrade

Computer Technology Specialist Tony Bliven connects the wires to a wireless access point before mounting it to the ceiling in E building at Quincy High School as part of the technology upgrade taking place in the school district. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
Posted: Jun. 25, 2013 9:08 am Updated: Jul. 9, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A major technology upgrade in a dozen Quincy School District buildings is moving along at a steady pace this summer.

Joel Murphy, business manager, said plans call for having wireless Internet access available to classroom teachers by the start of the 2013-14 school year at Quincy High School, the Early Childhood and Family Center, and the Board of Education offices, 1416 Maine.

Once those systems are in place, the district will focus on expanding wireless services to Quincy Junior High School, Baldwin Intermediate School and the seven elementary schools.

"By the end of school next year, we'll be quite a ways along," Murphy said.

This project is taking place thanks to Knapheide Manufacturing Co. and the Knapheide family, which announced last December they would partner with the district and the Quincy Public Schools Foundation to help implement a major technology upgrade.

This venture called for Knapheide's information technology department to team with the district's Information Technology department to design and install a wireless and wired infrastructure throughout the school system. The upgrade is expected to result in network and wireless Internet access in classrooms, a mobile digital environment in instructional areas of school buildings, a centralized infrastructure to support the technology, and devices to access the Internet.

Murphy said the project has moved slowly at times because of the size and complexity of the various buildings.

"It's not like a home where you can go to Staples and buy a $69 wireless router and plug it in and go. It's far more complicated than that," he said.

As plans were drafted and equipment tested, occasional hitches would surface. "We've been working through them," Murphy said. "We're still on track to have the high school done at the start of the next school year. There will be coverage in part of the building -- not the whole building -- and we're doing the same with the Early Childhood Center and the district office. From there, it's just a matter of working into the other buildings."

A key step at all locations involves replacing the networking equipment used to hook all computers together.

"Some of that has to occur before the wireless stuff can go in," Murphy said. "There are all these little parts and pieces that eventually fit together. But we are making some good progress."

Dmitry Andrievsky, the district's technology coordinator, said the ultimate goal is to provide a "robust wireless infrastructure throughout the school district."

Andrievsky said a wireless pilot project was installed in E Building at Quincy High School at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Workers are now installing wireless Internet access points elsewhere in the QHS complex, including the Quincy Area Vocational-Technical Center.

Meanwhile, he said, "we are performing an upgrade of our wired switching infrastructure throughout the entire school district this summer."

While the initial focus has been on QHS, the Early Childhood Center and the Board of Education offices, "the rest of the buildings hopefully will be coming online throughout the next school year, subject to contractor availability and funding," Andrievsky said.

Initally, the technology upgrade will provide Internet access only to district-owned computers used by students and teachers.

"Primarily this would be for classroom use," Andrievsky said. "We're not going to a student-bring-your-own-device model yet."

Murphy agreed the new wireless systems won't be accessible to anyone who shows up with a wireless computer, telephone, iPad or iPod.

"We're a ways away from allowing total access from outside equipment," Murphy said. "There are safeguards and policies that we need to put in place, and we're not ready to do that yet."

Murphy said the district is "at least a year away, if not longer" in allowing non-district-owned devices to tap into the wireless system.

Murphy said classroom teachers would be the earliest beneficiaries because they can start letting students use district-owned laptops or other wireless devices to access the Internet for in-classroom projects.

"Teachers also will be able to check email and answer email and work through presentations and things like that," Murphy said.

Andrievsky said the district still hasn't decided what wireless devices might be purchased for students to use with the new systems.

Up until now, he said, very little wireless technology has been available in the district's schools, which put Quincy students at a disadvantage in using modern technology for learning.

In December, school officials said in addition to offering the services of its IT department, the Knapheide company and family would be contributing "significant funds" toward the project, though an actual dollar amount has not been revealed.

"We would like to express our deepest appreciation for Knapheide's donation to the Dream Big technology campaign," Andrievsky said.

Murphy said the Knapheide assistance represents a "significant" boost to Quincy schools.

"In our current budget, there is no way we could afford to do this on our own," he said.