A student uses a grant purchased iPad at Whittier Middle School. Photo by Scott Ball.
A student uses a grant-funded iPad. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) board approved $13 million worth of information technology-related equipment on Monday night.

The board unanimously approved these and several other purchases, but Superintendent Pedro Martinez and several board members took time to stress how critical it is for students and teachers to have up-to-date computers, networking, Internet access and other equipment in classrooms districtwide.

Some of the notable technological equipment that the school district is now authorized to buy include:

  • iPad Minis with accessories from Apple Inc. that will support teachers and staff at 24 SAISD campuses. – $445,516
  • Macbook Pros for teachers at Douglass Elementary School, and iMacs for Crockett and Douglass elementary schools, from Apple. The iMacs will be used in computer labs to create movies, music and for coding and robotics at Douglass, and to create short films, songs and photos at Crockett. – $178,070
  • Additional computers, laptops, tablets and related devices from Apple for all campuses. – $4 million in purchases authorized for an as-needed basis.
  • Library automation system from Companion Corp. in Salt Lake City, Utah. The system will enable all SAISD campus libraries to circulate inventory and private data collection more efficiently. – $53,218
  • Windows-based computers, laptops, notebooks and related services from Dell Inc. for all SAISD campuses. – $4 million for an as-needed basis.
  • Voice and data networking cabling services, including repairs and equipment installation, from San Antonio companies CDI Technology Services and JPM Communications, and from Eldridge Communications of Helotes. The cabling will support districtwide network infrastructure. – $500,000 as-needed.
  • Electronic whiteboards, projectors, digital and interactive displays, including installation, from Data Projections of San Antonio, and Summit Integration Systems of Schertz. These devices will go into all SAISD campuses. – $1.5 million as needed.
  • Fortinet Hardware and related equipment from M&S Technologies of Farmers Branch, Texas, to provide coverage for the district’s Wide Area Network (WAN) infrastructure. – $139,147
  • Updating of wireless infrastructure, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) equipment, Air Watch licenses and related equipment, from Houston’s Netsync Network Solutions, for districtwide service. – $600,000

Funding for these and other IT-related services and equipment will come primarily from local revenues in the school district’s operating budget. Superintendent Martinez said he wanted to get a jump-start on having the school board authorizing these purchases, especially as SAISD plans to upgrade its overall Internet bandwidth capacity to 10 gigabits (GB) this summer. SAISD wants to ensure its students, faculty and staff keep up technologically with their counterparts in other local school districts, he said.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez outlines details about the new program. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez explains the new advanced and creative learning academy at Fox Tech High School on March 8, 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.

“It’s a good idea to get this done now,” Martinez told trustees. “When you walk into a school, you see computers and think they have technology. But the reality is those computers are outdated or broken.”

Trustee James Howard (D2) said having up-to-date technology in all schools is important, but so is having employees who are trained and encouraged to use the devices, from tablets to whiteboards, and take full advantage of them.

“A campus should feel comfortable with its technology,” Howard added.

Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1) agreed that SAISD should keep pace with technology across the board. But he also said he would feel more comfortable authorizing more than $13 million if a long-range plan were in place directing how SAISD can maximize its fiscal investment in technology over a number of years.

The school district does have a three-year technology plan on file with the Texas Education Agency but Lecholop feels a long-term tech plan with more community input can help.

“This would be a great time for us to develop a 10-year or five-year comprehensive plan,” said Lecholop. “It’s a great opportunity for us to enlist Tech Bloc and IT professionals who are parents who can help tell us what works and what doesn’t work.”

While his was not a formal proposal up for board action, Lecholop suggested he would like to see the formation of a committee that could review the idea of a longer-range comprehensive tech plan soon. The district superintendent signaled his openness to the idea.

“We can come up with long-term plan,” Martinez said, adding he is pleased SAISD has money to support wider technology upgrades, but it will take time before all campuses and offices are caught up. He also said it’s critical for the district to help students who cannot access basic or high-speed Internet and/or technologically advanced devices at home.

“We’re a big district, and we’re behind on technology,” Martinez said. “Frankly speaking, it’s bad if our kids don’t have this technology at home, then don’t have it at school.”

In other moves at Monday’s meeting, the school board approved a consent agenda item that authorizes the superintendent to proceed with a District of Innovation designation process. Here, SAISD officials and campus administrators will work together to develop a Local Innovation Plan, which would demonstrate how SAISD would attain this designation and keep it.

The 84th Texas Legislature passed a bill introducing the District of Innovation as a tool that can give traditional independent school districts much of the flexibility provided to Texas’ open enrollment charter schools. A school district’s most recent academic performance rating must be at least acceptable. SAISD met the standard in the TEA’s 2015 accountability ratings.

District staff will produce a draft of the local plan, which will be be posted on SAISD’s website early this summer for employee and community input. There was no board discussion Monday on this item.

The board also received an update on progress on the district’s 2010 bond projects. Kamal ElHabr, associate superintendent of SAISD facilities services division, said construction is finished on new and renovated spaces at Burbank High School save for the ROTC area, which will be completed later this spring.

Students leave Coach Reyna's classroom after a discussion with Senator José Menéndez. Photo by Scott Ball.
Students at Longfellow Middle School, which is in its final phase of renovations. Photo by Scott Ball.

In a separate motion, trustees approved a $20,000 increase in a contingency allowance to support the joint venture contractors, Guido Brothers Construction and Sundt Construction, to do additional utility and electrical work at Burbank.

Construction on the new administrative area at Fox Tech High School has been completed. Improvements on the baseball/softball fields and marching band pad, and expanding space for career/vocational instruction and dance all are nearing completion at Jefferson High School.

All new facilities and spaces at Lanier High School are now occupied by the district. Work at Highlands High School is not expected to be done for another year.

Longfellow Middle School is in the final phase of renovations, while work on the two-story classroom building/library wing at Rogers Elementary School is ongoing until June. At the end of ElHabr’s briefing, board member Lecholop asked that detailed bond financial statements be included in future updates on the 2010 bond.


*Top Image: A Whittier Middle School student uses a grant-funded iPad.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

SAISD Names Principal for New Advanced and Creative Learning Academy

Advanced and Creative Learning Schools to Serve 1,600 Students in SAISD

Austin Academy to House SAISD’s First Advanced Learning School

SAISD Moves Forward with International Baccalaureate Applications

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.