Improving the changing world of technology continues to be a huge priority in the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District, and the two schools in Severance will benefit as a result of a major upgrade.
The school board recently approved a plan to add $600,000 from the reserve fund to run a new fiber optic connection from Windsor to Severance, something that excites superintendent Karen Trusler.
“I appreciate the board’s focus on technology as a priority for our students,” Trusler said. “The fiber, as well as increasing bandwidth and connection speed to Severance, is a critical need for our district student population. Now, nearly 1,200 students, or 25 percent of the district, attend school in Severance and this will provide our youth faster and more reliable access to Internet and network resources.”
During the next three years, the district will purchase 240 chromebooks per year at around $240 apiece and set up eight mobile computer labs (30 chromebooks per lab) at schools for online testing.
“The chromebooks will be purchased primarily for mandated state assessments,” Trusler said. “This state testing period is during the months of November, March, April and May.”
The chromebooks, which are web-based laptops, will also be used in situations other than online testing and will be purchased from growth funds.
“During the other months, students will be able to use them in various learning situations,” Trusler said. “So although these devices will not be available during the four months on state testing, they will be available and will be used for student learning the other months which is advantageous for all involved.”
A couple of years ago, the school board considered a mill levy override proposal for technology to the tune of $1.78 million per year for seven years ($12.46 million total), but decided to not send it out to a vote to the taxpayers because of the economy and other items on the ballot during the election year. The new fiber and chromebooks are ways for the district to be responsive to the changes in technology.
The district will own the fiber that will run from the district office in Windsor to Severance Middle School, which is already tied into Range View Elementary School with fiber.
The fiber will go mostly underground, but there could be some aerial fiber. The distance the fiber optic cable will run is 20,144 feet, or 3.8 miles, said Trevor Timmons, director of technology and information service for the school district.
“The $600,000 covers the contingency for the project, too,” Timmons said. “There are a lot of obstacles. We have to go under some railroad tracks. We have to figure out a path getting all the way out there, so it could take some time and investigation in getting all the appropriate permits and right-of-ways. Those introduce some unknowns into the project, but we’ve done fiber before. We have fiber all over town in a partnership with the Town and it’s not been a problem in the past.”
Severance Middle School principal Jay Tapia is excited about the fiber optic connection coming to Severance.
“The extra bandwidth alone will allow us to be able to do some more things. It speeds it up and allows more users,” Tapia said. “Right now, the limitations on bandwidth impacts us and Range View as well. Depending on the number of users we have, it slows down everything.”
The fiber optic connection currently in Severance is nowhere near the speed and capacity of the schools in Windsor. The most critical factor in getting the fiber optic cable into the ground is improving bandwidth (speed to access information) and saving costs over time because the district won’t be leasing the fiber, Timmons said.
“If they add more schools out this direction or if we just get bigger, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” Tapia said. “Everything’s going to be shifting to online assessments, so it’s going to create more of a concern if the bandwidth doesn’t get addressed.”
There will be a noticeable difference once the fiber optic cable is ready for operation, although Timmons doesn’t have a definite date.
“We’ve actually never had our own connection out to the Severance schools,” Timmons said. “When we started with Severance Middle School, we had a couple of T1 lines (leased from CenturyLink), and a T1 can do 1.5 megabits. We had some of those tied to together. By the time we opened Range View, we had six T1 lines for a total of 9 Mbps (Megabits per second) connection. By comparison, we’re connecting to our other schools in town, depending on whether it’s an elementary or secondary, at 1 Gbps (Gigabit per second) or 10 Gbps. So, to connect to both Range View and Severance combined at 9 Mbps just absolutely wasn’t cutting it. It was painful for anything to happen in their computer labs out there. By putting fiber in the ground, we’ll be able to connect to Range View and Severance Middle School at the same speeds that we’re connecting to the other schools in town.”