Expanding school district gets a boost in interactive technology

The Epson 83 projector is part of NISD's solution.
The Epson 83 projector is part of NISD's solution.

As the fourth largest school district in Texas, the Northside Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio makes it a priority to keep up with the ever-changing need for technology in its classrooms.  In fact, in 2005 the National School Board Association recognized the district as a leader for using technology in its instruction and operations.

By 2007 most NISD classrooms featured 27-inch analog televisions to enhance learning experiences.  However, that equipment became outdated and difficult to repair when manufacturers began shifting to digital technology and stopped producing analog televisions and their replacement parts. NISD needed to find a way to keep its 104 schools up to date in the midst of change.

The district saw the opportunity to upgrade the classroom viewing experience with the passing of School Bond 2007, which specifically allocated $7 million to place ceiling-mounted projectors in classrooms.  The suggestion for projectors came from classroom teachers, who saw a chance to access the internet and show videos, simulations, and other presentations in their classrooms. NISD wanted the new equipment to be user-friendly so that students would be able to show off their multimedia presentations to the entire class.

Other concerns outlined by the district technology team included energy efficiency, reliability, affordability, and installation time frames.

NISD began working closely with CCS Presentation Systems, an audio and visual technology integrator, to assess its options.  The CCS education team consists almost entirely of former educators and school administrators. The district felt the company had an excellent understanding of the K-12 environment and the district’s specific classroom needs.  CCS recommended that the district replace the analog televisions with digital projectors, which are less expensive than flat screen televisions and more energy efficient.

The Epson 83 Projector was selected for its outstanding audio and performance standards.  The projector is supported by 2,200 lumens of white and color light output and has a built-in 10 watt speaker, which eliminates the need for external speakers.

Each school’s video distribution system is connected to the projectors, which means students and staff can watch the morning announcements and other school-wide video broadcasts on the big screen.  The Epson 83 Projector has an energy-efficient feature so that it automatically shuts off when not in use, and it features a built-in closed-captioning decoder that helps meet ADA requirements for hearing-impaired students.  It can be upgraded easily with new technology and software, an important feature for this fast-growing school district.  Because the projectors have a long lifespan, the district enjoys a longer return on its investment.

CCS Presentation Systems has installed Epson projectors in roughly 5,000 NISD classrooms and expects to complete the project with an additional 1,500 projectors installed by the fall of 2010. CCS is putting in upgraded screens and new cabling along with the projectors.

“Our ultimate goal in integrating technology in the classroom is to increase student achievement,” said Andrew Luther of CCS.  “Projectors engage students by capturing their attention and, in the long run, improve their ability to understand and retain information.”

Statistics prove the value of projectors and screens in the classroom.  A recent survey of educators revealed that projectors significantly increased student attention and improved the quality of teacher presentations, as well as made it easier to edit and change those presentations for classroom viewing.

NISD officials are pleased with the district’s progress toward completing the installation.  With two-thirds of the project behind them, CCS is on budget and on time–two areas in which the district was inflexible.

“We could not risk working with a vendor who could not finish the project in a timely fashion,” said Technology Project Manager Tracy Rayburn.  “Projects of this nature must be completed outside of classroom hours so that the learning experience is not impacted.”

Mary Helen Cover, principal at NISD’s Driggers Elementary School, said teachers and students love the projectors.

“Projectors allow students to connect to real world experiences and view places they may have never seen such as top of Mount Everest, the rainforest in the Amazon, or your backyard, and provide answers to scientific questions about type of soil, plants, animals, insects, etc.,” Cover said.

The projectors also have lots of applications for math and other subjects, and even parents get to take advantage of them on family and parent education nights, said Cover.

“We use the new equipment on parent and education nights so that the entire family is exposed to this technology,” said Kelly Smith, NISD’s assistant superintendent for technology service.

As the community continues to grow, NISD will promote the new technology to parents moving to the area who are looking for high-tech classroom experiences for their children.  The district continues to grow rapidly, with an average increase of 2,000 to 3,000 new students each year.

Upon completing the installation, NISD will be one of only a handful of districts in Texas with a ceiling-mounted digital projector in every classroom.  NISD has been proactive in embracing new technologies in other areas, as well.  In 2010, the district will open its first green school, Martin Elementary School, which is expected to earn a LEED silver certification upon completion.  The district also has a long-standing and extensive energy management program that saves about $1 million a year in electricity and water utility fees.

Smith said: “We try to push the boundaries in technology, energy efficiency and other areas to continue to improve our schools in ways that will have a lasting impact on our students, their quality of education and quality of life.”

Alex Guajardo is the Business Development Manager for CCS Presentation Systems, Texas.

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