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State Ed Making Progress On Connecting Schools

Sacramento, CA – It looks like the Mother Lode’s more remote school sites will be connected with the state education network by next spring, if not sooner.

Yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson heralded a second round of Broadband Infrastructure and Improvement Grants (BIIG 2.0) to the tune of $50 million that were approved by the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown. Earlier this year, over 300 school sites were deemed eligible in an initial funding of $27 million; among them, ten Mother Lode schools. The goal of both funding rounds is to provide technology access and resources designed to improve teacher instruction and assessments as well as assist in the delivery of a “21st century” student learning experience that prepares them for college and careers.

According to the state’s latest K-12 High Speed Network report, all four of the Calaveras County schools that received first-round grants now have on-site circuit installation in progress. Comcast is the circuit provider for Mountain Oaks-San Andreas Campus, Copperopolis Elementary School and Mark Twain Elementary; AT&T for Oakendell Community School.

In Tuolumne County, Mountain High School is one of six school sites where work has reached this stage under the auspices of Mother Lode Internet, which stepped in after the major carriers declined. According to Teri Sanders, chief operating officer for the K-12 High Speed Network, the school, which was deemed eligible in the first bid, was in danger of joining the “no bid” list when the major carriers did not opt in.

“Through local reconnaissance from the Tuolumne County Office of Education, we made a late award to a local vendor in the area,” Sanders explains. She admits, “It’s not the…best solution…but an opportunity for better connectivity for [spring] testing in the next cycle, and Mother Lode Internet is accomplishing that work, under contract with us, as we speak.”

Localized Issues, Solutions

Sanders points out that Mountain High will be automatically included in bid list for second-round funding, to determine if a better solution can be brought to bear. Too, she says, as the FCC has changed their service eligibility, the Summerville Union High School District may also “self-provision” a solution and undertake an actual construction project that would be covered under federal subsidies.

Improvement plans under the auspices of AT&T are still in engineering stages for Cold Springs High School, Tioga High School, Don Pedro High School, and Tenaya Elementary School. Comcast is still designing its plan for South Fork High School.

According to Sanders, site visits to all the schools have already occurred or are being staged to happen soon. “In addition, because so many of these sites don’t have a lot of technical expertise at their locations, we’re trying to cooperatively get the help of the County Office of Education,” she states. Further explaining, she notes, “There is a hired integrator…accessing what needs to happen, in some cases, there may even be electrical work before the new equipment may be installed, and they’ll be assessing what equipment is needed, ordering, and configuring it, so it’s ready to accept the circuit from the commercial provider.”

Sanders says the state’s investment in solving the “digital divide” within the state public school system has enabled access of federal subsidies that estimate to stretch the California dollar four times. By next spring, she says upward of 90 percent of the state’s school sites that need broadband improvements will have what they need in place, roughly in time for spring assessment testing. Without the funding infusion, she stresses, these schools, many of them in remote locations with smaller student populations would struggle on their own and find the process extremely difficult — or impossible — to navigate, much less pay for.

Along with enabling such schools to connect to the state education network, Sanders affirms, “When the infrastructure is built, it does benefit the entire community.” As she puts it, commercial providers, through grant funding opportunities such as this, are able to pay construction fees upfront and further off-set costs through additional subsidies that come behind. Subsequently, she states, “The commercial providers, as they build…are definitely building capacity that would serve others in the community, besides the schools.”