Schenectady County

Niskayuna school district not ready for pricey video system

Niskayuna school officials aren’t ready to jump into an investment in high-end Cisco video “collabor

Niskayuna school officials aren’t ready to jump into an investment in high-end Cisco video “collaboration systems” — but they agree the technology is pretty cool.

The district was approached by Cisco earlier this year and given access to a pair of the video systems to test-run inside the classroom.

A group of salespeople and engineers from Cisco, located in New York City, Clifton Park and Oklahoma, hosted a videoconference presentation for school board members last week.

The system, which is a large high-definition screen with a series of cameras, can be used to teleconference with people outside the class, record lessons, present notes and much more. The salespeople argued the technology can do everything the district’s current technology can and in a single device at a higher level.

While the Cisco representatives did not answer a board member’s direct question about the price, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. told the board the system retails at $55,000 a piece.

“We got no straight answers from those people,” said school board member Howard Schlossberg as the board discussed the technology after the presentation.

The board members said the technology was impressive, but they were unsure how it would fit into the district’s education program and whether its use merited a major investment.

Iroquois Middle School English teacher Frank Adamo used the technology in his classroom for the past few months, connecting to other classes as far away as Australia. Students in his class interviewed people from around the world using the technology.

He told the school board that the technology was impressive, especially when connecting to classrooms that had the same equipment, but that it was sometimes challenging to connect to people on non-Cisco networks or other types of videoconferencing systems.

“It’s not Skype, it’s not Google hangout, there is a richness to what it is,” Adamo said at the board meeting. “It works like something that should cost more than my car.”

But the board and district officials need to have a broader technology discussion before making decisions about any specific pieces of technology equipment.

“It’s a conversation about what role technology will play in the future as we develop what the model of a Niskayuna student will be,” Tangorra said Wednesday.

As part of the statewide Smart Schools bond funding, Niskayuna schools will have access to nearly $1.5 million in technology purchases. Some local districts, like Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Mohonasen and Schenectady, are investing heavily in new low-price laptops and other devices for students. But Tangorra said he doesn’t see expanding access to devices as the district’s most immediate need.

“We have an investment that needs to be made in infrastructure that would be a better use of those funds,” Tangorra said.

District officials have started to discuss how that money could be used as part of a capital project the district plans to put up for a vote by the end of the year.

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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