Woudstra talks tech at Sioux Center board

Brady Woudstra, Sioux Center Community School District’s technology coordinator, gave the members of the school board an overview of the work his department has done during the summer, both in the realm of infrastructure and policy.

SIOUX CENTER—Sioux Center School District technology coordinator Brady Woudstra had a busy summer working with the district’s internet capabilities, as he told members of the school board last Monday.

Most of the projects his department undertook during the summer were funded by E-rates, which Woudstra said is a government subsidy that they apply for and grants a percentage reimbursement that’s based on the district’s free and reduced lunches.

One such summer project was a cabling project.

“The oldest wings in Kinsey had new cable poles throughout those wings, in the first and second grade and kindergarten spaces. The last time cable was pulled to those was in 1997,” Woudstra said. “It was a good upgrade. It gives us flexibility with access points.”

Work was also done to enhance Kinsey’s wireless capabilities. As Woudstra explained, there were some areas of the school they experienced issues with wireless coverage.

“We went from approximately 65 access points to about 85 throughout the district, so we’ll hopefully have better coverage,” he said.

With the work on upgrading wireless internet infrastructure comes a new perspective on what is needed to meet the buildings’ needs.

When they first began installing wireless infrastructure around 2009, they did so with a particular methodology, Woudstra said.

The idea was to have one powerful access point for every four classrooms. As they’ve found out, however, having everyone connect to the same point, even if it is a powerful one, is taxing on the system, especially with the prevalence of cellphones that wasn’t around when these were first installed.

“What we’ve learned is we have to go with smaller devices and more of them,” Woudstra said. “That’s another change we’ve been doing these last couple of years.”

In the high school and middle school, Woudstra said a lot of fiber optics has been added between their network racks.

“A lot of that is just for redundant purposes, so if something happens in one place, we can hopefully switch stuff back on quickly,” he said.

The motivation for working on this came from conversations with school administrators about how long they could be without internet use.

The answer, Woudstra said, is “it’s short.”

“Teachers are flexible and can still teach on a white board, but that’s not the point. A lot of what they access requires internet,” Woudstra said. “So, we’re trying to build that out.”

He’s also been planning ahead for when high school staff and administration move to the new high school building when that is completed, being particularly mindful in setting things up for an easy transition for teachers in the new building.

Policy has also received some attention. In particular, Woudstra has been working on updating the district’s policies regarding student privacy.

“We met with the admin team to review the amount of data we house about our students and families to make sure we’re not exposing them or allowing access to people who don’t really need access to it,” Woudstra said.

That meant reviewing things such as staff access to the district’s infinite campus system, and determining who needed access to what information the district and the different schools keep.

Woudstra took this review on through to the software students use as part of school, looking to figure out where those services store collected data on users.

One gap in policy he noticed is that there is no process for reviewing new software teachers might want to bring into the classroom from this student privacy perspective.

A process has now been developed, he said.

“Right now, the process would be that we would review it from a privacy and terms of service and user license agreement, the fine print nobody reads,” Woudstra said. “We’re going to be intentional about reading that and then passing that on to our administrators who can look at it from a curricular standpoint — does it fit the academic goals that they’re trying to achieve and have adequate measures in place for student privacy?”