Stonefields School in Auckland is one of the country’s newest, having opened its doors at the start of this term. What technology lies behind them? Greg Adams takes a look.
What choices would you make about your school’s ICT if you could start from scratch? It’s an intriguing prospect and a “once-in-acareer opportunity” that Sarah Martin couldn’t pass up.
Last April she took up the reins as Principal at Stonefields School. Situated in a new suburb being built in the old quarry near Auckland’s Mount Wellington, construction of the school hadn’t even started. Her role was to get the place up and running, from finding furniture to choosing computers. What was it like?
“It was the most amazing privilege,” she said. “It’s been quite a ride and hard work. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.
“Being a brand new school provides opportunities and possibilities for how things could be, not how they’ve always been.”
So, given a blank canvas and a sizeable enough cheque to go with it – somewhere in excess of $150,000 – what did they choose?
“Our vision has been our filter and we’ve not gone out on a limb. We’ve immersed ourselves in what other schools have been doing.”
One of the key decisions was whether to put computers around the walls or in pods.
“We’ve gone for a bit of both,” said Martin. “And we opted for a dual Windows/Mac platform, so that we have devices that are fit for purpose. We’ve also installed a KiwiLink VoIP phone solution, with a dedicated 2GB line.”
The school has fibre to the gate … but, unfortunately, isn’t yet hooked up.
“We can’t afford it. We’ll definitely look at pulling fibre through when suppliers start talking turkey. For now, we’ll be using a 50GB ADSL 2 solution.”
The catchment for Stonefields School is the new Stonefields development and part of neighbouring St John’s. It caters for Years 1 to 8 and will eventually accommodate 520 students. Currently, only the first phase is complete, which consists of three ‘hubs’ or enough for around 240.
“We’ve adopted a ‘hub’ design,” explained Associate Principal Chris Bradbeer, who like Martin came from Red Beach School. “There are 12 devices per hub, catering for 80 kids in three classes across two to three years.”
The hub has areas designed for different purposes, with a selection of computers, a short-throw projector (Epson) in one corner, and digital signage (VideoPro) elsewhere.
“The learning hubs look amazing,” added Bradbeer. “They even have some specially-designed furniture that allows for recharging of mobile devices. We also hope to add touchscreen overlays to the digital signs when the pricing comes down.”
ICT support and advice is being provided by Norrcom, which has helped Martin and her team select the LMS (KnowledgeNET), SMS (eTap) and Google Apps. The school is also considering a student laptop programme but is still working through the fine print of the leasing conditions.
Late last year, the school’s first group of eight teachers attended a three-day induction camp where they mapped out a plan for the school and “challenged each other’s thinking”, according to Associate Principal Kirsty Gray.
“It’s been exciting to be able to build from the beginning and not have restrictions or boundaries.”
Her new colleague Chris Bradbeer agrees.
“We’re lucky that we haven’t got the baggage and have to do things because ‘it’s always done that way’. We’ve had the opportunity to re-think these things.”
Martin admits it’s been a steep learning curve, with “fibre and politics” being among the toughest challenges. She canvassed widely and has welcomed advice from all quarters.
“Douglas Harré, Paul Seiler and others at the Ministry have been a great help, as has Paul Norris at Norrcom – even the IT guy at our bank, Westpac, helped out with the sorts of specs we should look for!”
After months of preparation, planning, meetings, and donning hard hat and gummies for regular trips to and from the building site, the school opened its doors at the start of this term.
“Overall, we’ve tried to make the best choices based on our vision, beliefs, and purpose. I think sometimes schools can be guilty of jumping to the practice. A lot of our work has been thinking about IT strategy and direction, and future proofing what we’re doing.
“Our aim is for end-user satisfaction and trying not to contain learners. It’s been the most amazing experience that’s stretched us all the way.”
GREG ADAMS IS EDITOR OF INTERFACE MAGAZINE.
A few words from Norrcom’s Paul Norris
What did you do for the school?
Initially, Stonefields engaged us for consultation. We gave the school options and solutions to deliver the best possible outcomes. Norrcom also subsequently won the tender to provide ICT support.
What was the most exciting part of the project?
Deciding on the best course of action while maintaining my belief that a multi-platform approach is what schools should drive towards.
What have been the main challenges?
The choice! There’s so much that sometimes it’s difficult to formulate a coherent plan. For example, since starting the project there have been five netbook CPUs released. And the access points used are not those quoted for as better models became available.
What’s it been like working from scratch?
Helping the school’s management team make decisions based on educational needs has been extremely rewarding. To do everything from new means we get the right device for the right job … and it’s guaranteed to work!
Stonefields School opened its doors for the first time this term. It’s been built to support a new suburb of the same name being developed in the old quarry near Auckland’s Mount Wellington. It caters for Years 1 to 8 and will eventually accommodate 520 students, although the first phase only has room for 240.
TECHNOLOGY IN A HUB
Each of the school’s hubs has: four iMacs, eight Asus EEE desktops, and six Asus EEE notebooks.
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