Though the average age of its buildings is 73 years, the School District of Philadelphia has surged into the future by installing one of the largest wireless Internet networks in the world, making it the country's largest school district to be completely wireless, officials said yesterday.
"It means it will allow teachers to bring modern technology and instructional methods into the classrooms that they could not before," said Tom Brady, the district's interim chief executive officer, during an interview.
"It goes way beyond just the chalk board and great teaching. It enhances great teaching," he added.
The district's push to make its 268 schools wireless was completed last month at a cost of $40 million, said Felecia Ward, a district spokeswoman.
About $30 million of that money was covered by the federal government's E-Rate subsidy program, Ward said.
"Earlier network connections were limited to certain areas in the school. . . . Now, that same Internet connection can be used by multiple users instead of at one desk," said Rachna Ahlawat, vice president of strategic marketing for Meru Networks, of Sunnyvale, Calif., which was hired to provide the wireless local area networking infrastructure.
"All the classrooms have Internet access - that foundation is all done," said Bob Westall, the district's deputy chief information officer.
"Now we are ready to come with the supplemental sources and begin to put in the the projectors and the interactive white boards and the computers."
The School Reform Commission yesterday paved the way to do just that.
During a special morning meeting, the district's governing body voted, 4-0, to authorize the sale of bonds to generate $41.6 million which will be used over three years to modernize 1,383 classrooms in 151 schools.
Middle schools, with grades 6th through 8th, comprise the bulk of those schools - 126 compared to 25 high schools.
Part of the money, $4.1 million, will come from Apple Computer, satisfying a federal government requirement that 10 percent of the funds come from a non-governmental match, school officials said.
This is the third bond issue in five years earmarked specifically to modernize classrooms.
In 2002, $22 million was raised, with $19 million in 2004.
These efforts are being augmented with funds from the state's Classrooms for the Future program and about $2 million a year from the district's capital budget.
Still, the majority of the district's middle and high school classrooms will remain on the waiting list to get high-tech upgrades.
"We're in the process of having an outside firm determine our facility needs. We need $7 billion to get our schools up to standards," Brady said.
Each middle school, however, will have some of its classrooms upgraded, depending on its size.
A school of 600 students would get about four modernized classrooms, said Fran Newberg, the district's executive director of educational technology.
An 800-student school would get six modernized classrooms, a 1,200-student school would get eight new classrooms and larger schools would get 12 classrooms, she said.
Closing in on CEO
In other news, commission Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn said the Dec. 31 deadline to select a CEO is still on target, but it could take a little longer.
"I'm not going to say it's going to be by Dec. 31 exactly, but we're holding pretty close to our time frame," she said. "I'm hoping that we will make our year-end target. If we do not make the target, I think we will make our target date soon after year end."
" I believe the rest of the School Reform Commission colleagues would agree with that," said SRC member James Gallagher. *