After years of lagging, School Committee technology leaping ahead of council
After years at dial-up modem speed, metaphorically speaking, the technology of School Committee meetings is jumping onto a T1 line.
Or, in English, committee meetings are taking a technological leap forward as soon as this summer. By the time they resume in the fall, the 6 p.m. Tuesday meetings will be streamed online as well as televised for those who can’t make it to 459 Broadway. The streaming will match City Council technology, but the video will also be able to incorporate the slideshow presentations members watch live, a feature council technology lacks, as well as be archived almost immediately, said Ginny Berkowitz, program manager at the district’s Media Arts Studio.
“It’s been a long-standing goal, and it’s been a long process that was related to the renovation of the high school,” Berkowitz said Wednesday. “With technology, it often takes a while to get all the parts working together and working properly. We seem to have been able to get things into good working order late this spring, so we’re really excited about that.”
“The next thing on tap is the streaming,” Berkowitz said. “It’s essential to have that feature, and we’re going to do our best to make it happen.”
The $112 million renovation of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, where the committee has offices as well as meeting space, began with the close of school in 2009 and had a grand opening two years later on Oct. 1. Because the committee’s quarters took a back seat to educational needs, there were still details there to be pinned down, district Chief Operating Officer James Maloney explained in May. The new technology could be the final element.
Berkowitz called it a “pretty robust robotic system” — meaning a sole studio employee can control the view from cameras built into the committee room, although some broadcasts use two employees, a director and switcher — and highlighted the advance of letting viewers at home see PowerPoint presentations onscreen as clearly as officials and parents see them where they’re being given. Presenters should be able to connect with the system no matter what hardware they bring in.
It will surely be a small item of envy to councillors such as Leland Cheung and Marjorie Decker, who have ordered advances in the city’s streaming capabilities, and Ken Reeves, who has been complaining for months about the city’s audiovisual amateurishness in holding meetings and ensuring presentations are seen and heard by all.
Shared by city, schools
During the two years of construction the committee met at City Hall in the same chambers where the council holds its meetings, but even then its meetings didn’t stream like the council’s. Those 5:30 Monday meetings, filmed by The Office of Cable Television/22-CityView, can be watched live on Channel 8 or streamed online and are archived dating back to February 2006. The committee’s meetings can be watched on Channel 99, but its archives date back only to January 2010, and video can be slow to be added to the website.
Even when committee meetings were held in City Hall they weren’t streamed. It would have called for complicated coordination between the two systems, Berkowitz said, “which is why we had to wait until we moved back to our renovated space.”
But the media distribution system being bought to stream video and create instant archives will serve the city as well as the schools, Berkowitz said. And it should make meetings available for viewing as soon as the next morning.
“We won’t know exactly how [well] it works until it’s implemented, but yeah, that’s the goal,” she said.
The Media Arts Studio — which is at 454 Broadway, across the street from the high school and meeting room — is funded by the district and city and through the city’s contract with cable provider Comcast. The studio itself could see upgrades soon in the form of tapeless cameras and upgraded editing software, Berkowitz said.
“That’s pretty routine, since the technology is changing so fast,” she said.
Berkowitz said she did not have access to the cost of the equipment she was implementing.