Nothing illustrates the growth of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division better than the information systems and technology arm of this educational business that serves over 8,150 students and more than 1,100 teachers, support staff and administrators.
Just how far and how fast the systems have grown were outlined to the Cornerstone board of trustees on Feb. 16 when Justin Arendt, manager of information systems, and Kevin Tonita, information technology co-ordinator, provided them with updated information during their afternoon business session.
The trustees learned there are now 2,500 laptops being used for Cornerstone business-and-learning projects throughout the region, an increase of 1,500 since the division was formed in 2006.
"Laptops require more time to support and they break down more frequently so there are more services to support," said Arendt.
As a result, the public school division's help desk is kept busy, but the downtimes experienced by the computer users have been reduced significantly thanks to some good team work and a knowledgeable technical staff, Arendt said. The technical staff has been able to provide business continuity and implemented an improved off-site backup system and power upgrades in the main server room.
"Internet use has increased by 150 per cent since 2006," Arendt said.
They added that with that growth has come a comparable increase in technological knowledge from staff, including teachers ... especially in the past four years. Divisional office services have increased by 125 per cent since the inception of the amalgamated school division six years ago.
Tonita said fibre upgrades have been carried out at 37 of the division's 38 schools and most are now served by three megabytes which he said, "was not great, but adequate." Those upgrades would be completed by the end of March.
"The schedule and speed services ... well, we're at the mercy of the Ministry of Education. We can't contract more bandwidth. There is a lack of alignment between school requirements and the ministry's funding and permission, but I expect that's the same problem throughout Saskatchewan," said Tonita.
"It's not a technical issue, it's a funding issue, and naturally we find it challenging and frustrating at times."
Marc Casavant, director of education for Cornerstone, raised the concept of the "virtual school" in the future.
"We can't say where we can go with that. The fibre is going into the ground, but there are very few teeth in the concept so far," said Arendt.
The two technology presenters said that Cornerstone was one of just three school divisions in the province to have updated data management systems in place.
Tonita said that in the future, he expected technology infusion projects would be introduced at the classroom levels as teachers come forward with technology projects. He said the division welcomed seven such projects in the last academic year including virtual literature circles, podcasting, global positioning projects and iPad use to reinforce intervention programs and some video and Internet learning efforts.
The new report card models have been updated and will go live in March after undergoing 18 months in the development world, the two men said.
The trustees were told that 435 students are enrolled in the division's online learning centre with 34 of them being from outside the Cornerstone region. This project has netted $17,000 in revenue for the division, but it was noted that some Cornerstone students are enrolled in exterior courses with other regions, which costs the division some tuition fees too.
Some of the external students are enrolled in English courses that are scheduled for as few as six weeks and up to one year. The two technology experts said it is a great course for adult distance learners since they can be absorbed any time of the day. Adult courses, off campus courses and home schooling options have provided a more diversified template for the students, they said.
"For instance, it's great for hockey players," said Tonita, pointing out one obvious advantage.
"Access any time of day is a big advantage in a number of ways," said Casavant.
Tonita and Arendt were thanked by board chairwoman Carol Flynn.