Back to School

For most children, parent-teacher interviews tend to result in either a celebratory trip for an ice cream cone or a stern talking-to about buckling down and watching less T.V. For Richard Van Dyk’s children, a parent-teacher interview resulted in a new computer lab for their elementary school.

“I met the principal of the school at a parent-teacher evening,” Georgetown, Ont.-based Van Dyk explained. After noting that Van Dyk was wearing an IT company’s jacket, then-principal Al Greyson asked him if he would be interested in looking at the technology plan that Glen Williams’ School had developed.

“In our minds we had a fairly ambitious plan,” Greyson, now superintendent of the Halton District school board, said. “We were trying to get more equipment into the hands of kids, and I thought it would be a great idea to ask people with experience for feedback.”

“I went home and read it and had a laugh about it, because it was a very mid-1990s direction,” Van Dyk said. “Having done thin client in business, I rewrote it, put a proposal together and said that this is the direction that they should be going. That happened in 1998.

“I ended up meeting with people from the IT department at the school board, who said they weren’t interested because they were two years into their five year plan,” Van Dyk added, “but I saw it as a missed opportunity. Technology is all about flexibility and there was no flexibility in their five year plan, so I went out and did it myself.”

Van Dyk, the director of IT at Smith Lyons LLP, began seeking corporate involvement, and received a server from FutureLink.

David Fung, the Toronto-based president of FutureLink Canada, said that the reasons for his company’s involvement in the project were simple.

“It’s always good to promote a technology. It’s good for business as well. The more people that know about it the better we’ll all be,” Fung explained. “And frankly, it’s good to give something back to the community. It might sound corny, but it cost us very little and we’ve done something pretty good.”

Dan Albrecht, the Grade 3 teacher and server administrator at Glen Williams’ School is amazed at the difference that the new lab has made. Because the lab is based on a server-based computing model, which connects the machines to a single high-speed server that runs the programs, older machines can be used. This is beneficial because every student now has his or her own computer in the lab, which range from 486 machines to newer models. It also demonstrated the school’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy to the students.

“The machines are old, the monitor stands are cracked and are full of sticker marks,” Albrecht described. “It looks like a bunch of junk sitting on the tables, but with the new server, everything is smooth and runs so well,” he said.

“We have found a huge advantage in terms of log in time. Logging in is 20 seconds quicker. It’s hard to explain how much of a difference 20 seconds makes. Do you have any idea how much trouble an eight year old boy can get into in 20 seconds?”

Greyson said the Glen Williams’ school is an exception in terms of its outcome.

“This project required substantial corporate donations,” Greyson cautioned. “The well runs dry quickly in terms of accessing resources on a donation basis. However, leveraging older technology is an option, as (schools) upgrade their machines. If they can, schools should consider taking advantage of equipment turnover. But this project couldn’t have been done without knowledgeable parental support.”