Published: 4/26/2020 7:30:17 PM
Modified: 4/26/2020 7:30:16 PM
Windsor — The Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union had planned to install outdoor wireless internet at the schools it oversees in Windsor, Hartland, West Windsor and Weathersfield in the summer of 2021.
But when the novel coronavirus outbreak threatened to send students home last month, supervisory union officials decided to move ahead more than a year in advance. Larry Dougher, the SU’s chief information officer, ordered the equipment, at a cost of $7,000; Mike Walker, a network administrator, ran “hundreds and hundreds of feet of cable,” Dougher said, and within a few weeks, the schools had the same fast internet service outside on the grounds that they’d had indoors.
The outside Wi-Fi means students who lack fast internet service at home can drive up to the nearest school to access assignments and hand in their work. In a news conference last Wednesday, Vermont Education Secretary Dan French cited Windsor Southeast’s new service in a list of schools that were expanding remote learning capabilities for students. The service also should be available to nearby homes, he said, though most homes near the schools already would have access.
“This is a good resource for families,” Dougher, a Windsor native and a 2000 graduate of Windsor High School, said in a phone interview. “From a technology standpoint, we’re a little further ahead than a lot of school districts.”
Around the state, districts have turned to a patchwork of options to provide families with internet service to enable remote learning. French described how districts have provided cellphones that can serve as wireless hotspots (in the Stowe area and Arlington) and 24-hour guest access to school Wi-Fi (in Danville). “Solving the last-mile issues for Vermont students and their families has been a combination of procuring the necessary technology and access, but also about neighbors helping neighbors to support the children and families of their communities,” French said in the news conference.
In addition to the outdoor wireless, the Windsor-based supervisory union has for several years furnished all students with Chromebook laptop computers and already had in place the online tools needed for remote learning, Dougher said.
The supervisory union has had fiberoptic internet service at all of its schools since 2012, paid for with stimulus money from the Great Recession, Dougher said.
While extending high-speed service to the school grounds will help some families, it isn’t a substitute for home service, Dougher said. Some are getting by using wireless hotspots, but that’s not a substitute for full, high-speed service, he said. He estimated that 95% of families in the district have usable internet service at home, and noted that “we would never put up with 5% not having electricity. We’ve got to get these last few people.”
If that’s going to happen, it likely will have to come from federal funding. “The multi-billion-dollar corporations, if they thought that there was a profit incentive to serve two houses on a hill that they can’t get to, they would have served them already,” Dougher said.
Dougher has worked for Windsor Southeast since 2006, and has been CIO since 2010. In addition to the SU’s 1,200 students and the educators and central office staff, he and four other information technology workers serve the schools in Cornish and Plainfield, as well as Windsor’s town government. The shift to remote learning has taxed the small IT staff, which serves as a help desk for the supervisory union, but they have managed to shoulder the added workload.
“I have a great team here,” he said.
Alex Hanson can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3207.
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