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Duval Schools Granted Millions For Technology Upgrade Effort

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Duval County Public Schools
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Major technology upgrades are on the way to Duval County Schools.

About $58 million will go toward a myriad of new technology improvements ranging from new laptops for teachers to wireless access at every school.

“It certainly moves Duval County Public Schools to another level, regarding investment and technology,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said following the announcement Wednesday morning.

Previously many of the older schools in the district had to rely on internet hotspots with  limited connectivity.

“Over 50 of our schools--or close to 60--are over 50 years old so they haven’t been able to be wired, and now, possibly they can,” said Duval Teachers United union president Terrie Brady.  

The effort is primarily funded through a low-interest federal technology bond, known as a Qualified Zone Academy Bond. The bonds are issued to schools where at least 35 percent of the population qualify for free and reduced lunch.  

The district applied for the $50 million competitive bond earlier this summer and was awarded the full amount, Vitti said.

“We acted quickly...There were $50 million available and we went for all of it,” Vitti said.

Another $8 million is being provided through the Quality Education for All Fund and two other private companies--Emtec Inc., which donated about $2 million and Collaborative Solutions Inc., which gave about $560,000.

The district was granted another such bond last year for $29 million to begin updating its technology systems.  With that money, they  were able to begin hardware upgrades in 41 targeted low-income schools. The new bond will go toward completing that work, Vitti said.

Plans for the money also include a computer per student or one for every two students in each middle school and 36 of the lowest-performing schools. those schools make up the Raines, Ribault and Jackson High School feeder patterns and are known as the district’s “transformation schools.”

Vincent Hall is principal of Raines High School, in the high-poverty area where many of the upgrades will take place.

 “For the students in my building, a lot of these students, they do not have the technology  at home so being able to have a two-to-one or one-to-one device at the school is going to be so meaningful for them,” he said.

Brady said she expects the upgrades to help boost the morale of both teachers and their students.

“We know that anytime you provide technology for classroom teachers, it’s going to do nothing but excite and stimulate the growth and the learning and the teaching in the classroom,” she said.

The technology upgrades will take place across the district across over the next three years. The district will be required to pay back the bond over the next 10 years.

Here is a breakdown of how the funds will be used:

-$23.3 million for high-density wireless and electric retrofit in all district schools

-$6.2 million for a Microsoft portal data system for parents, teachers, administrators and district partners to access school information

-$14.9 million for every student or every two students to have a computer in middle school; and for all core-curriculum teachers to have a “teacher interactive bundle” (which includes interactive whiteboard, audio-visual cart and document camera)

-$4.4 million for every student or every two students to have a computer in 36 transformation schools

-$1.8 million for every teacher in the 36 transformation schools to have an “interactive bundle”

-$6.9 million for every teacher in the district to get a new laptop

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.