Tech use higher than ever in Plum schools

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The increasing use of smartphones, tablets and other technology in the Plum School District has led to a need for network upgrades.

“We had a record use of technology in 2012-13,” said Christopher Davis, the district's director of educational technology.

The school board's decision a couple of years ago to permit students to bring their own computing devices to school has resulted in about a 25 percent increase in the “network load” or amount of traffic or data on the network, Davis earlier this month told Plum School Board members during a technology committee meeting.

Davis said in addition to the district's network supporting more than 2,000 computers and 500 mobile devices, the “Bring Your Own Device” policy has resulted in an additional 800 to 1,000 devices on the network each day.

Davis said the record use of the network has resulted in the technology department this summer making upgrades to the district's information technology infrastructure.

“The existing (information technology) backbone is about 10 years old and now is insufficient to handle the network and Internet needs of the district,” Davis said.

Other work includes adding classroom technology to assist students and teachers in their daily lessons and upgrading Internet service to the district.

Davis also is working on a recommendation to the board concerning the consolidation of all five student data systems that have information on grades, student health, management of special-education students and discipline management into one centralized system.

“This separation of information and functionality (of the five systems) provides massive challenges for state reporting (of student information) and reliability of data between systems,” Davis said.

After an evaluation of several systems, a district committee is considering Sapphire Software based in North Brunswick, N.J., at a cost of $65,000, Davis said.

The current systems cost $29,000, Davis said.

Sapphire would provide greater integration and access to student information, a more user-friendly parent portal and better access to federal and state reporting data, he said.

Board President Andrew Drake said switching to a new system would be a “cultural change” for the district's staff.

Davis said the company would make the conversion for the Plum School District.

Also, Davis would plan training for the staff beginning in January through the end of the school year.

He anticipates the system would be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Davis expects to have a recommendation for the board on a new system within a few months.

Drake also wants the technology department's long-term goals as part of the district's strategic plan.

“We need to know what you will do (in technology) in five years,” Drake said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or

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