"Technology Gap" in Hamilton Co. Schools - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

"Technology Gap" in Hamilton Co. Schools

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By David Carroll

dcarroll@wrcbtv.com

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- All Hamilton County schools are nowhere near equal when it comes to technology in the classroom.

School District CFO Tommy Kranz brought the issue to the School Board's attention at a retreat late last year, when he told them that "technology is a serious, serious problem" in county schools.

Kranz told stories of slow Internet connections, frequent crashes and power outages and other issues related to the District's aging schools and outdated technology.

Schools in affluent neighborhoods often benefit from the deep pockets of well-to-do parents who provide strong support for technology and other programs.  Once-neglected inner city schools have been on the receiving end of generous grants from local foundations and federally-funded programs, transforming their technology tools from ancient to outstanding.  Also, many of the most rundown inner city and low income school buildings have been replaced by shiny new facilities with adequate wiring.  That leaves "schools in the middle," which receive little or no financial support for extra "bells and whistles."

Lookout Valley Middle/High principal Dr. Lee McDade knows all about it. Ten years ago, in his first year at the school, he utilized grant money for an all-new computer lab.  But for computers, ten years is an eternity.

Dr. McDade said, "They're behind, and we can't afford to catch up. We want our students to be on equal footing with every other student that graduates from high school, but how can we do that?"

The computer shortage requires the use of a mobile tray goes from room to room.  Teachers compete for computer time.  Honors English teacher Jill McBryar said, "I'm proud of what our students have achieved.  But they could do even more if we were able to keep up with technology."

Senior Eddie Dunn, who is in line to be the school's valedictorian, helps teachers make repairs on the computers.  But there are fewer to work with according to Dunn, who said, "Some of them are just dead.  I'm just glad to find one that still works."

It's no better at Red Bank Middle School.  It's a 72 year-old building due for replacement, but no ground has been broken.  At the old school, technology itself is not the problem; the computers are relatively new.  But as teachers and students will tell you, without adequate servers and electrical outlets, they often "power off" in the middle of a research project.

Principal Katie O'Brien says, "The wiring in the building is so old and decrepit, we don't have the ability to use computers as we'd like to."  Teachers say the computers "stopping and starting" is a frequent deterrent to learning, as students "sit and wait" for their computers to regain power.  During our brief visit, one class came to a standstill around the time an announcement was made over the intercom that "the Internet is down again."

Teacher Beth Morgan looked around a computer lab connected to one electrical outlet, shook her head and said,  "Typically our system freezes and can't keep up with the demand of all the technology we have in our building."  And since the school next on the list to be replaced, it's unlikely the District will put in any significant funding for improvements.  Still, there's no timetable for when a new Red Bank Middle will actually be built.

And district-wide, technology is a valued asset, but realistically not among the top priorities on a "lean and leaner" budget set to be revealed by Kranz in the spring.   Building maintenance, salary increases and health insurance costs are sure to be among the hot-button topics for School Board members to discuss.

At Lookout Valley, Principal McDade appreciates community support and says, "If any business or organization wants to help Lookout Valley, this would be a great place to start."

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