Community split over importance of district-wide wi-fi

By Michael Sudhalter

DistrictWifiClements High student Ali Zaidi believes there’s a need for all of the schools in Fort Bend ISD to have wireless capabilities in order to be modern centers of education, but not everyone agrees that the $22.1 million necessary for wi-fi would be well-spent.

“I feel that there is a desperate need for wi-fi within our schools,” Zaidi wrote on the Facebook page, “FBISD Concerns.” ‘The need to teach computer and technological skills within the classroom, has now become as necessary as teaching a child how to write. Technology is the medium by which almost the entirety of our global economy runs off, and it is sad that our school system operates in a manner reminiscent of the 90s, rather than 2014.”

Forty of FBISD’s 70 schools currently have wireless capabilities through the campus. Ten campuses received e-rate funding for the program in 2009, and thirty more received those funds for wi-fi in 2012.

In the 2014 proposed bond, $39.4 million – or approximately 8 percent of the $484.1 million – is dedicated to Technology improvements. Of that, $22.1 million would be allocated to bringing wireless to every campus by the end of 2016 and $17.2 million would be allocated to strengthening the current computer network (a backbone refresh).

Voters will decide on the proposed bond on Nov. 4.

FBISD chief information officer Long Pham said the opportunity to use wireless devices in classrooms is important.

“Most technologies are wireless – most kids grew up with wireless in their hands such as tablets and laptops,” Pham said. “We can’t limit ourselves to just a wire out of the wall.”

Pham said the challenge will be installing wireless “without disturbing classrooms,” but that’s why many of the wireless networks would be installed during the summer and after school hours, beginning with the high school, followed by the middle and elementary schools.

Currently, every school has wireless in the common areas, including the office and cafeteria, and teachers have the opportunity to check out mobile access routers out of the principal’s office.

Pham said neighboring districts such as Lamar Consolidated ISD, Katy ISD and Houston ISD have put a strong emphasis on wireless throughout their campuses.

Some parents believe that there should be more of an emphasis on the basics of learning, rather than the use of technology in classrooms.

“(It’s) a shame that so many students leave school without learning to write, or read or manage basic arithmetic,” Kasia Rezmer wrote on Facebook. “(We need) less wi-fi and more paper, pencil and teacher time.”

Darren Hoelscher said the $39.4 million allocated to technology could pay for several new teachers – at $50,000 per teacher – rather than the technology upgrades.

“What’s the expected return on investment of (wi-fi) versus paying for more teaching staff?,” Hoelscher asked on Facebook.

Steve Shafley said wi-fi should be one of FBISD’s tools in certain educational situations, but not all of them.

“If the student in question is going to work in IT, or in app development or other programming courses, they should have access to those tools, including wi-fi and internet, but I completely disagree when people talk about how necessary technology is for learning, for work,” Shafley wrote on Facebook. “The necessary tools for learning and work are self-discipline and a willingness to delay gratification.”

Pham said the $17.2 for the backbone refresh would install a secondary network, in case the main computer network from the administration building to all of the campuses is down.

Pham added that it will also add more bandwidth, something that will be necessary if the new security cameras are approved in the bond.

Some of the district’s computer hardware will also be replaced – because it’s at the end of support by the manufacturer – if the bond is approved.

Pham said if the bond isn’t approved, the district will make technological improvements in a piece-meal way.

“If it doesn’t pass, the network will run as is, and we’ll replace broken equipment as needed, and we’ll add whenever we can,” Pham said.

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