The FamilyEducation Network (FEN), which provides web-based services to parents and schools, has announced a new initiative that aims to help communities use technology to improve education.

Lighthouse 2000 will set up model communities in 20 to 30 school districts across the country. The goal of the program will be to “accelerate the use of technology to connect communities so the whole village is involved in teaching kids,” FEN president Jon Carson told STFB.

FEN started as an online resource for parents. Last year, it began offering web-based services to schools. An unprecedented $14 million deal with America Online (AOL) allowed FEN to expand its offerings to schools, teachers, and parents. Over 400 school districts have signed up for a free web site, according to Carson.

FEN is partnering with the American Association of School Administrators and the AOL Foundation to fund the project. In a few cases, a limited number of cash grants may be given. But the scope of the program isn’t “writing a check,” Carson said. Instead, FEN will send resource people out to districts to work with schools to build out web sites, set up teacher training, and coordinate fundraising and grantswriting efforts.

Each district will make a commitment to implement 80 percent of the FEN model, said Carson. That model includes eMail accounts for all teachers, web sites for all schools, and internet access for all parents.

Carson said that communities will be selected based on an application process. Any district is eligible to apply, but Carson said those with diverse populations will be most competitive. One of the criteria that the selection committee will be looking for, said Carson, is the “commitment to embrace the vision.”

FEN is looking for corporate partners to expand their offerings through Lighthouse 2000. Carson said he hoped to be able to give out more cash grants in the second year of the program, and expand the number of communities the project can support.

For more information on how to apply, contact Bob Block: (617) 542-6500, ext. 129, bblock@familyeducation.com