News Column

Windber schools plan major tech updates

May 12, 2014

By David Hurst, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

May 12--WINDBER -- Windber Area information technology director Jeff Friend describes the district's computer network as a tangled web of sluggish servers, failing routers -- and "plenty of Band-Aids" to keep it all going.

At a time districts nationwide are moving toward Internet-ready devices instead of schoolbooks in every classroom, the district's wired and wireless networks often struggle to hold up for the aging laptops and desktops Windber currently provides, he said.

Windber's school board is mulling a more than $780,000 technology undertaking that could change that over several years, while also launching a switch to Samsung Chromebook 2 laptops and other devices that eventually could put one in every student's hands, school officials said.

The upgrade also would allow the district to add security to its slated-to-be-remodeled schools, with electronic key card access, security cameras and other safety measures being considered, Friend said.

"It is a major undertaking," he said, during a presentation to the board last week. "But it's what we need."

Superintendent Rick Huffman told board members the district has replaced network components in small batches over the years. Many devices that deliver Internet to the school's computers are a decade old.

Some have broken connection ports or are failing for other reasons. Others still work but are no longer supported or cannot be used with today's technology, Friend said.

One of Windber's most recent purchases, 30 Chromebooks for the middle school, "almost crippled us," network-wise, he added.

Board members did not take action on the project Tuesday, but said they recognize some upgrades cannot wait until the middle/high school building is renovated, a project that could wrap in 2016 if the district's plans remain on track.

Board President Tim Tokarsky stressed the district has to make sure components necessary to upgrade the network's backbone won't turn into "throwaway" fixes for areas of the high school that could be demolished in 2016.

While the district's plans call for buying hundreds of new computer devices for students, faculty and staff, many of the school's still-reliable computers, such as iPads and some laptops, would continue to be used in the years to come in Friend's phased plan. Many would go to classrooms currently without devices, he said.

"In five years, you may not be able to buy a paper textbook," Huffman said. "Times have changed."

The district's board did not discuss how the school might pay for the multiyear undertaking.

Friend outlined several options, noting the more than $780,000 project could be paid for in a lump sum or financed over three years through Cisco Systems at no interest.

Tokarsky and Huffman indicated some work could begin as soon as this summer, although that would follow board action at a public meeting.

David Hurst covers Windber for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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Source: Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, PA)

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