Brandywine Heights School District uses new network filtering system for student devices; purchases remediation online curricula

Photo by Joe Brown Thomas Voelker, Brandywine Heights School District's director of curriculum, instruction and technology, shows off the new Lenovo laptop-tablet hybrid devices that students district-wide will receive this upcoming school year.
Photo by Joe Brown Brandywine Heights Area School District Board President Ken Heffner listens as Superintendent Andrew Potteiger discusses the merits of the student remediation online curricula from USA Test Prep at a meeting on Aug. 4.

Not only will students district-wide receive their own laptop-tablet hybrid this school year, but parents can rest assured that Brandywine Heights Area School District is taking precautions with a new filtering software in place.

On Aug. 4, the school board approved a five-year agreement with Higher Information Group of Harrisburg for ContentKeeper Content Filtering Solution at a cost of $78,002.55 contingent upon verification of annual payments instead of monthly ones.

Last year, the district used SonicWALL as their filtering software. According to Thomas Voelker, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and technology, the board was searching for a new filtering program that was not tied to the school’s network.

“When students were here with the device everything was filtered, however, when they went home they were off our network,” Voelker said in an interview with The Patriot. “The filter is actually tied to the device now, where before it was tied to the network.”

According to Voelker, going with a five-year plan makes the most sense financially because the district can lock in a set price, which will save them money if HIG increases their pricing during that time period.

Last year, students in kindergarten through eighth-grade received tablet devices. This year, students from kindergarten through 12th-grade will receive a Lenovo hybrid device (Lenovo Yoga 11e) that serves as both a laptop and tablet. For Voelker, the reasoning behind providing students access to technology during their schooling was simple.

“If we’re truly trying to set our kids up for success when they leave school to do whatever they want to do, we need to make sure that we’re preparing them with the tools that they need to be successful,” he said. “I firmly believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

The district has already received the 560 high school devices, and 175 of the 1,030 K-8 hybrids at this time.

In addition to the new filtering software, parents will begin receiving mobile access to the district’s eSchool student information system after the board approved an addendum to the Berks County eSchoolPLUS Consortium Service Level Agreement. Mobile app services will be added for the 2014-15 school year to provide parents and school personnel with increased access to eSchool.

“We’re investigating paperless report cards and all of that,” Voelker explained. “As we transition into that [paperless direction], we want parents to have all the tools and resources readily available so they can access that information anywhere, anytime.”

In other news, Superintendent Andrew Potteiger expressed his excitement of the purchase of secondary Keystone Assessment student remediation online curricula from USA Test Prep. The curricula will assist students in need of remediation with Literature, Algebra I and Biology. The board approved the purchase of the program for the 2014-15 school year at a cost of $975.

According to Potteiger, the online curricula has potential to be used as an assessment preparation tool in the future, but for the upcoming school year it will be used solely for remediation purposes.

“This program is extremely powerful. This is what I’ve been looking for in an online program for a long time,” Potteiger said during the meeting.

The district was in need of an online curriculum to strike a balance between staffing needs and providing students with adequate means of achieving success on the Keystone Assessment. Potteiger expressed his belief that the program from USA Test Prep will achieve both.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. in the Kemp Building, Room 229.