eRate agency commits $1.66 billion: First-year funding capped for schools and libraries

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, issued its final wave of 1998 funding commitment letters Feb. 27. The tenth and final wave brings the total dollar amount committed to schools and libraries to $1.66 billion for the program’s inaugural year.

The SLD’s announcement, which was made March 1, came on the same day President Clinton released 1998 figures showing more than half of the nation’s public school classrooms wired to the internet. With help from the eRate, Clinton said he expects all classrooms to be wired by 2000 as promised.

“Vice President Gore and I have set a goal of connecting every classroom in America to the internet by the year 2000,” the president said in a White House statement. “And thanks to new eRate discounts that help schools and libraries connect to the internet, we will reach our goal by the year 2000.”

According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of public school classrooms connected to the internet nearly doubled last year, from 27 percent in 1997 to 51 percent in 1998.

SLD officials estimate that as a result of the eRate, nearly 650,000 additional public school classrooms will be wired for internet access this year. That figure would increase the total percentage of U.S. public school classrooms with internet access by another 25 percent, to more than 75 percent by the end of 1999, officials said.

Those figures assume that all applicants complete their wiring projects by the deadline, which now stands at June 30. But the SLD has filed an ex parte motion with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that the deadline be moved back to Sept. 30, which would give schools the entire summer to complete their projects.

“The future is now,” said SLD president Kate Moore. “This commitment of $1.66 billion will enable thousands of students and library patrons to leapfrog into the realm of internet connectivity, which would have otherwise taken years to reach. The result will be a more highly educated society and a more competitive workforce.”

First-year overview

According to the SLD, telecommunications services and internet access were funded for all eligible schools and libraries that successfully completed applications within the filing window. But only applicants who qualified for discounts of 70 percent and above received funding for internal connections, which were designated as a lower priority by the FCC last June.

Of the 30,121 eRate applications submitted within last year’s filing window, 25,785 (about 85 percent) were funded. Most of the unfunded applications requested only internal connections but fell below the 70 percent cutoff point, Moore said.

Internal connections accounted for 54 percent of the total funds committed, she said. Telecommunications services accounted for 40 percent, and 6 percent supported basic internet access. About 60 percent of the total funding went to the neediest applicants–those for whom at least half of the student population qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

The $1.66 billion is about $265 million short of the $1.925 billion total collected by the FCC to fund the program’s first 18 months. Part of the $265 million difference was set aside in case the FCC decides to allow the extension of contracts that expired before Dec. 31, 1998, Moore said.

When the FCC extended the first year of the eRate by six months–to June 30, 1999–the agency initially ruled that contracts expiring before Dec. 31, 1998, could not be extended to cover the extra six-month period. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently asked the FCC to allow extensions for such contracts, and a final decision is expected from the agency soon.

Another $45 million was set aside to pay for administrative expenses, Moore said, including about $12 million in one-time start-up costs. The rest of the difference will be kept in a contingency fund to cover awards to schools and libraries that win more money by appealing SLD rulings, she added.

Highs–and lows

States that received the most funding were generally those with the largest populations. California, for example, received $206 million in funding, followed by New York with $165 million and Texas with $128 million.

One notable exception was Georgia, which received nearly $78 million–the fifth-highest total among the 50 states. More than $28 million was awarded to the Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency (MRESA) alone, a consortium of 14 Georgia school districts that includes the 11 metropolitan Atlanta school systems, three associate systems, and more than a half-million students.

MRESA received funding for an internet-based educational video distribution and multimedia network called MRESAnet 2000. The system will use the data communication lines currently being installed through the state Department of Education’s Peachnet initiative, along with the satellite broadcasting capabilities of the Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Public Television, to bring video-on-demand to each school in the MRESA region.

“This is going to be a real shot in the arm for the school districts involved,” said Bernard Hatch, executive director of MRESA.

Not everyone was happy with the disbursement of funds, however. The SLD turned down a request for nearly $17 million in funding from the Tennessee Department of Education to upgrade the state’s education network, ConnecTEN.

Tennessee’s application proved controversial from the beginning. Because states are not eligible to receive eRate discounts for improving their wide area networks, Tennessee sold its network to a private company, Education Networks of America. In return, ENA offered to install a point of presence at each of the state’s 1,600 schools so it could charge the state for direct internet access to the schools, rather than the routers, hubs, and switches necessary to improve the network.

In rejecting Tennessee’s request, the SLD said the network hardware costs did not qualify as internet access expenses under the eRate. State education commissioner Jane Walters told The Tennessean she would appeal the agency’s decision to the FCC.

Still, the state’s schools and libraries netted more than $27 million from the program because many school districts chose to apply on their own. Memphis City School District, for example, was awarded $10.5 million to bring six cable drops per classroom and 100MB Ethernet connectivity to every desktop in 63 of the district’s 166 schools.

Schools and Libraries Division

http://www.slcfund.org

National Center for Education Statistics

http://nces.ed.gov

Federal Communications Commission

http://www.fcc.gov

Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency

http://www.mresa.org

Tennessee Department of Education

http://www.state.tn.us/education

Memphis City School District

http://www.memphis-schools.k12.tn.us

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Microsoft moves to set one standard for K-12 software

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, speaking at the annual conference of the American Association of School Administrators in New Orleans in February, outlined a software initiative called the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF). The new software standard is designed to increase compatibility among school software applications, he said.

More than 18 technology companies already have signed on to the software standard, but Apple and key Apple software partners were notably absent from the list.

Gates, who missed a scheduled appearance at last year’s AASA meeting because of the ongoing Justice Department action against alleged monopolistic practices by Microsoft, provided a demonstration of a working model showing how SIF could eventually help school districts make the most of their instructional and administrative software.

School districts typically use a wide range of applications procured from a variety of vendors to control instructional and administrative functions. But because many of these systems don’t communicate well with each other, administrators often find themselves entering the same data over and over again. Incompatible systems also limit the way school districts can compile and analyze data from different applications.

School district technology leaders actively involved in the development of SIF expressed support for a uniform software standard.

“The issue of application interoperability is huge for school districts,” said Jim Meacham, technology director for the Teton County School District in Jackson, Wyo. “[SIF will] allow us to redirect the time and money back to the education of students.”

Gates said the framework would not only tie together a variety of applications; it also would streamline the gathering of data for reports and analyses at the district, state, or federal level.

“So it doesn’t matter that within, say, a state you may have many different grading systems, or many different instructional systems, or many different attendance management systems,” Gates explained. “As long as those systems support this framework, you can gather all the information and see it in one place and do an immediate analysis.”

SIF support

Microsoft is leading the charge for SIF, but several other technology vendors and school technology officials are supporting the initiative.

As of late February, 18 vendors had joined Microsoft in the quest for a K-12 technology standard, including Chancery Software, Computer Curriculum Corp., Follett Software, Jackson Software, Jostens Learning Corp., Learning Tools International, Misty City Software, National Computer Systems, NeTel Educational Systems, Nichols Advanced Technologies, Pentamation Enterprises, PeopleSoft, PhoneMaster (U.S. Telecom), SNAP Systems, SRB International, Trapeze Software, TRO Learning, and Winnebago Software.

This leaves hundreds of vendors unaccounted for, but Manish Sharma, a Microsoft representative, said interest in SIF had picked up in the weeks following Gates’ address to AASA conference attendees.

Though encouraged to participate, vendors that do not commit support to the initiative will still be able to use the specification once it is completed. Sharma says the initial specification will be posted on the SIF web site for use by any K-12 technology vendor.

“Having something like SIF ties into the need for schools to be able to make faster, real-time decisions,” Sharma said.

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Satellite tracking system automatically calls to say school bus is coming

Waiting in the rain or snow for the school bus soon might be a thing of the past, if a new technology developed by a company called NotiCom catches on. The company, based in Destin, Fla., has launched a satellite tracking system that it claims will notify parents automatically when their child’s bus is about to arrive in the neighborhood.

The service, called BusCall, also tells parents when the bus is running late, and school districts can tap into it as a low-cost fleet tracking and management system, according to company spokeswoman Colleen Clements.

“There are all sorts of [bus-tracking] tools already out there, but they tend to be expensive,” Clements said. “We see this as a way for schools to have a low or no-cost service that does the same thing.”

With a school district’s permission, the buses are equipped with $1,300 tracking antennas, or “vehicle control units,” which send signals to a computerized base station to track the exact location of each bus. The station then sends out automated phone calls to parents alerting them when their child’s bus reaches a pre-designated distance from their homes.

The technology behind BusCall, which the company calls “advance notification of impending arrival,” is patent-protected, Clements said. “To our knowledge, [the notification system] is unique,” she said.

‘No downside’

NotiCom supplies the equipment, but the actual service is provided by a local wireless phone company. Instead of selling the system to school districts, NotiCom markets it to the phone companies to sell to their customers as a subscription-based, value-added service, such as caller ID or call waiting.

Phone companies would purchase the equipment from NotiCom and operate the base station. Schools, in turn, would be able to connect to the base station’s computers via an internet hook-up to receive real-time information about the status of their bus fleets.

The service will debut in Minnesota in April and will cost parents about $4 per month. NotiCom’s first client, Midwest Wireless Communications, plans to test the system in Marshall, Minn., this spring and offer BusCall to other communities in southern Minnesota later this fall.

Though it’s too early to gauge the response among the parents in Marshall, Clements said NotiCom already has been contacted by several school districts expressing their interest. Besides the potential to use BusCall as a fleet tracking system, the system offers a way to keep kids safe while they wait for the bus and reduces the chance that they’ll miss it, she said.

“The school districts we’ve talked to have been very receptive–they can’t see a downside,” Clements said.

Jerry Cain, director of operations for the Escambia County, Fla., School District, agreed. When looking for a system to track the county’s 360 buses running routes every day, Cain found that most commercial systems cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per bus to implement–without even providing real-time data.

When the district learned of BusCall, it offered to help beta test the system at Scenic Heights Elementary School. Cain has been very pleased by what he has seen so far, he said: It not only provides a free bus-tracking system for the school, but also offers a valuable service to the community.

“I can’t speak for its profitability for the [phone companies], but I hope a provider in this area will pick it up,” he said. “As a parent, knowing that my child is safe inside the house until the bus comes is worth the cost of a trip to McDonald’s every month.”

NotiCom

http://www.buscall.com

Midwest Wireless Communications

http://www.midwestwireless.com

Escambia County School District

http://www.escambia.k12.fl.us

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From the Publisher: Old Apples never die

Several years from now, a few old-timers in the school field might ask each other, Whatever became of Apple? Remember Apple?

Once the undisputed, highly innovative leader in K-12 computing, Apple likely will have faded from the school scene like some old soldier–a veteran remembered fondly, not dead exactly, just lost in shadow, irrelevant now, a fading relic of bygone glory.

If those old-timers cared to note the beginning of the last phases of Apple in K-12 education, they might mark Feb. 22, 1999. To be sure, Apple’s image in education had begun to pale sometime ago. But it was during the 131st annual conference of the American Association of School Administrators in New Orleans that Apple’s demise probably became irreversible.

When Bill Gates rolled out the lumberingly labeled “School Interoperability Framework” (SIF), he gave a good example of why he’s the richest man in the solar system. And he might also, indirectly, have shed a little light on why he was turning up at AASA one year late. (Last year, you might recall, he had a date with an antitrust investigation, and it still drags on.)

As our Page One story and our eSN Special Report suggest, SIF fundamentally is a reprise writ small of the entire Microsoft saga.

SIF is a variation on what Gates has done better than anybody right from the start. Almost since he quit showing up for class at Harvard, Gates has understood that the most vexing thing about technology is incompatibility.

You hear about the wonders of technology. Then you gradually overcome your aversion to computers. You begin to grasp the liberating possibilities of automating mundane tasks, become a power user, envision the immense potential of combining multiple systems to leverage productivity . . . and then it hits you.

You can’t do that. Nope. No way. The separate little automated fiefdoms of your system don’t get along. The computers won’t talk to one another. You’re stuck.

For consumers, Microsoft has changed all that. At the desktop, for the general technology consumer, compatibility problems have pretty much been resolved. Reason: Microsoft has won the war.

Now, Microsoft is on the march once more. Windows 2000, by most accounts, will aim to spread the Microsoft hegemony beyond the desktop into the enterprise network. Even before that, though, Gates and his SIF partners have set about to bring compatibility to all the “mission-critical, enterprise-wide applications” of your school district.

According to Gates, “PCs connected to the internet, reliable eMail, easy-to-use productivity software, and powerful database and business applications” will form the basis of the new school network. It will give schools “a digital nervous system,” as Gates styles it. What a happy day awaits us all.

And guess what: If all the essential districtwide computing is done by the bosses on PCs, the long-term prospects for Apple anywhere in the K-12 field are, well . . . hard to see.

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Wireless show unveils gadgets for educators on the go

Busy school leaders on the go received some good news from the wireless industry’s annual trade show in New Orleans Feb. 8: A flurry of industry alliances is expected to hasten the day when consumers can use their mobile phones and portable computers to check their eMail, navigate the internet, and access data from their desktop PCs.

Motorola Corp., the big mobile-phone maker, and Cisco Systems Inc., the dominant maker of computer-networking equipment, announced they would create a set of common technical standards to enable equipment used by different wireless systems to work together easily.

The standards, due out in May, should make it easier for wireless network operators to offer services such as eMail and voice mail without worries about compatibility. The companies said they will spend $1 billion during five years in the effort, which should result in new products in a few years.

The increased availability of go-anywhere web access through “smart phones,” laptops, and handheld computers could help boost internet usage from about a fifth of the U.S. population to more than a third by 2002, analysts say.

About 2.5 million American households are expected to have internet-ready phones by that time, estimates Jupiter Communications LLC, a New York-based research firm.

On-the-fly communications between mobile phones and PCs also could be a boon to schools, where management and technology staff often shuffle from crisis to crisis.

Some manufacturers already sell phones that let people exchange eMail and offer limited online access.

But they don’t always work well, especially for people traveling long distances, and they can be expensive. Nokia’s 9000 series mobile phone, which features a big screen that flips up, sells for $700 and up.

However, competition is pushing prices down.

Innovative Global Solution Inc., for example, unveiled a smart phone expected to cost less than $300. The NeoPoint 1000 lets people hook into the internet, use a modem, send faxes, and exchange eMail.

Motorola Corp.

http://www.mot.com

Cisco Systems Inc.

http://www.cisco.com

Innovative Global Solution Inc.

http://www.igsolution.com

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Technology helps school nurses treat sick students

Technology is helping Kentucky school nurses evaluate sick students with the aid of doctors who are miles away. “Telemedicine” allows doctors to see patients using video cameras, scopes, television monitors, and telephone lines.

The technology is in use at three Harrodsburg, Ky., schools, including Evan Harlow Elementary.

In a recent demonstration, school nurse Teresa McIlvoy shone a lighted scope into the mouth of Eli Edwards, a slightly feverish second-grader. Images from the scope can be transmitted via telephone lines to a Harrodsburg pediatrician’s office, where doctors see real-time images of ears, throats and skin.

“We’re trying to screen people and say, ‘This looks like a contagious rash. You better have them call their mom and have them go on to their physician,'” said Dr. Pamela Johnson, a Harrodsburg pediatrician.

McIlvoy said having the expertise of a doctor available helps her decide who should be sent home from school.

“Kids with strep throat can have that for days and not even run a fever,” McIlvoy said. “So if they’re having symptoms, I can let the doctor see the things we’re seeing.”

McIlvoy also has video access to a University of Kentucky psychiatrist who can advise her on a child’s behavioral problems.

“It avoids the ‘white-coat syndrome’ where a child is intimidated when a psychiatrist sits next to them,” said Dr. Earl Motzer, chief executive officer for the James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital in Harrodsburg. “But on TV it’s kind of like a game.”

The technology also is being used elsewhere in the state. Since May 1998, St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead has had a hub that connects three schools in Lewis, Carter, and Menifee counties to primary-care centers in eastern Kentucky. Two more schools in Bath and Elliott counties soon will come online.

“It’s a way to connect rural areas where you can’t hire physicians,” said Rick Phillips, coordinator for St. Claire’s network.

Kentucky TeleCare recently announced that two Lexington schools and another in Richmond also have been linked, said TeleCare Director Rob Sprang.

Parents must consent before their child can be screened.

Health officials say the technology can reach rural and inner-city children who might not see a doctor as often as they should.

“The school nurse is about the only health care some of these kids will get,” Sprang said.

University of Kentucky Medical Center’s Telemedicine Inventory home page

http://www.tmgateway.org/gateway/agencies/orhp/02

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Sony restructuring will slash work force 10 percent: Maker of PlayStation and Walkman will focus on developing tools for digital age

Sony Corp. announced that it will undergo a massive restructuring with widescale cutbacks to reinvent itself for the digital age.

The company, based in Japan, will focus on making networkable computers, cell phones, pagers, and even TV sets that can communicate with each other, according to the announcement. In the process, it will cut its work force by 17,000 and slash the number of factories it operates worldwide.

“In the last three years, we have made a lot of effort to move from being a ‘box’ company to becoming an information technology company,” Nobuyuki Idei, Sony’s president, said in an interview. “I think we’ve had a fair amount of success.”

The company says the move won’t affect its U.S. K-12 market. “The announcement that was made has no immediate direct effect on Sony electronics distance learning or education-related businesses here in the U.S.,” company spokesperson Rick Clancy told eSchool News.

“In fact, it has no direct effect on any Sony business in North America,” Clancy added.

Sony’s announcement comes at a time when corporate Japan has been struggling with a stubborn recession at home and an economic crisis in Asia that has severely diminished demand in the region.

Unlike many of its competitors, Sony still is making money. But the company expects profits in the fiscal year ending in March to be almost one-third less than last year.

Out with the old, in with the new

Especially weak have been earnings on Sony’s TVs, VCRs, and portable stereos. Company executives believe making money on these goods will only grow more difficult, Sony president Idei said.

The organizational changes represent a bet that products such as computers, digital cameras, and PlayStation video game consoles will be more important to the company’s future than Walkman stereos and its well-known TVs.

“We are expanding our strong divisions and trimming the weak areas,” Idei said. “We have to evaluate what sort of businesses will create the most value in the long-term.”

The job cuts, equal to 10 percent of Sony’s work force, are to be completed by March 2003. They will come mostly from limiting the number of new employees Sony hires each year instead of from layoffs, Idei said.

He said employees who lose jobs related to manufacturing analog products such as tape players and VCRs will be retrained to make digital-age goods such as computers and camcorders. The cuts will be made worldwide, but the company did not provide additional details.

Sony will close 15 manufacturing facilities around the world, leaving it with 55 plants by 2003, Idei said. The company would continue to “invest aggressively” in research and new production equipment, he said.

‘Four pillars’

Other changes include incorporating the company that makes the popular PlayStation video game console, Sony Computer Entertainment, into Sony Corp.’s main electronics business.

Idei said the new division would be one of “four pillars” of Sony’s electronics business, which would also include a unit to manufacture traditional TVs, VCRs, and audio products; one focusing on cellular phones, computers, and digital cameras; and another to develop the computer chips, batteries, and disk drives used in a variety of Sony products.

Sony Corp. will also buy up the shares of three publicly traded affiliates–Sony Music Entertainment Japan Inc., Sony Chemical Corp. and Sony Precision Technology Inc.–to make them wholly owned subsidiaries.

Credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service praised the changes, saying it would keep one of its highest ratings on Sony.

“This move will better enable the group to pursue its corporate strategy,” Moody’s said in a report.

In a related development, Japan’s biggest computer maker, NEC Corp., said last month it would cut 15,000 jobs, or 9.7 percent of its work force, over the next three years as it struggles to recover from massive losses at its Packard Bell division.

Sony

http://www.sony.com

NEC

http://www.nec.com

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Videoconferencing and voice mail transform superintendent recruitment (almost): Although a high-profile search in Dallas fizzled, real-time video interviews are improving searches

Executive recruiters–such as the ones conducting superintendent searches in Dallas and Washington state–are turning to technology to identify and screen prospective K-12 job candidates, and this gives school leaders yet one more reason to get savvy about technology.

Late in February, the Dallas school board deadlocked over which of two finalists to choose as its new superintendent. The result: the search had to be reopened.

The stalemate showed that technology–no matter how advanced–can take things only so far. But before the search foundered, it drew national attention to something fresh in superintendent recruitment: videoconferencing to give school boards and remote superintendent candidates a discreet way to look each other over.

The Dallas search highlighted the use of videoconferencing, but the search now under way in the Peninsula School District of Gig Harbor, Wash., suggests the broad range of technology now being deployed by executive search consultants.

Using existing and emerging technology solutions can save schools money and broaden search possibilities, according to Lee Pasquarella, president of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Cascade Consulting Group. Pasquarella specializes in matching districts and candidates using a variety of voice, video, and data technologies.

With so many districts looking for new leaders–nearly 200 in Texas alone, including El Paso, Austin, and San Antonio–schools are increasingly turning to cheaper, easier technology solutions, Pasquarella said.

Digital match-making

The Peninsula School District recently hired Pasquarella to help them find the right leader.

In addition to holding more traditional public meetings to discuss the superintendent search, Pasquarella said he will be using a telephone-based service devised by his company to assess the needs of the district and make a “computerized” match with possible candidates.

The survey will be completed by school employees to help Pasquarella understand what kind of a district he’s working with. Like people, Pasquarella said, every school district has its own distinct “personality” or “culture.”

Over the next few days, Peninsula staff members will call an 800 number and use the keypad of their phones to answer a series of 36 pre-recorded questions about the district. Respondents will be asked if the district is willing to accept new ideas, how it receives information, and what kind of information it accepts.

The phone survey will generate data that are compiled into an “Organizational Characteristic Index,” which Pasquarella then compares with data on possible candidates.

The search will later employ other technologies, such as voice mail and eMail, to allow community members to weigh in with their opinions. The information will be made available on the school’s web site.

“The reason this works is because we’re using technology to make it happen,” Pasquarella said. The system gives board members much more information than they’ve been able to collect in the past, he added, with a one-day turn-around time.

Dallas Public Schools

In Dallas, the five final candidates for the top job went through a videoconferencing interview. The interviews were conducted in a closed session and lasted about two hours each. Videoconferencing was used, search consultant Bill Attea told the Fort Worth Star Telegram, to protect the confidentiality of the candidates.

A spokesman for the district, John Dahlander, told the Star Telegram that the videoconferencing cost about $3,700. Board members and candidates exchanged questions and answers, watching each other on 35-inch TV monitors.

But the interviews didn’t go without a hitch. Lost connections and overbooking of the videoconferencing equipment within one district delayed two interviews.

In the end, none of the candidates were selected for the position, and Dallas is back to the drawing board, with some Texas lawmakers calling for a state takeover of the district.

Calling Dallas school board members “a bunch of kindergarten adults,” one state legislator said the trustees’ decision in early March to restart their superintendent search shows the district is in dire shape, and education experts say launching a new search will make matters worse.

Gov. George W. Bush challenged the city’s business leaders to help fix the district, and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk suggested that school board members should consider resigning.

School board President Hollis Brashear said the district needs no state monitoring. He argued the board has dealt with complex issues over the past year.

“Like any deliberative body, we have had our share of differences, but we all remain sincere in our efforts to improve the district,” Brashear said. “Our decision to extend the superintendent search should indicate our collective willingness to find the right person to lead Dallas Public Schools into the next millennium.”

Several state leaders aren’t convinced. Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, is rallying a multiracial group of local lawmakers to pressure the Texas Education Agency to act quickly.

“When should they do it? Yesterday,” Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, told the Dallas Morning News. “I support a hostile takeover.”

State Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, spoke even more harshly: “We’ve got a bunch of kindergarten adults running a school board,” she said. “I think all of them should be removed.”

State Education Commissioner Mike Moses “will consider what legislators say,” spokeswoman Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe said. “We’re closely watching the situation, but we’re not planning to send in a monitor.”

Trustees voted 8-1 to restart their search when it was clear the board was divided over two finalists–James Williams of Dayton, Ohio, and Anthony Trujillo of El Paso. Williams withdrew from the race the next day.

Dallas Public Schools

http://www.dallas.isd.tenet.edu

Peninsula School District

http://www.peninsula.wednet.edu

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Free manual, now on the web, will give aid to schools with Y2K woes

If you’re worried about whether your schools are ready for the year 2000 (Y2K), they probably aren’t. But help is on the way.

The U.S. Department of Education is sending your school district a new guide to help you cope with potential Y2K problems, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley announced Feb. 12. And you can get a web version of the manual right now (see Links).

Produced with the Council of the Great City Schools, the document–“Squashing the Millennium Bug: A Year 2000 Compliance Guide for Elementary/Secondary Schools and School Districts”–contains a 57-point checklist, computer tests, web resources, sample letters to vendors, contract clauses, and other suggestions you can use to ensure that your computer systems function properly on Jan. 1 and beyond.

“We want to do all we can to help elementary and secondary schools resolve the year 2000 issue,” Riley said. “This guide has dozens of practical tips and we strongly encourage the duplication and distribution of this material to others.”

“Because the millennium bug has the potential to stop a school or school district from functioning, nothing should be more important than addressing the Y2K problem,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition representing the nation’s largest urban public school systems.

Among the highlights of the 70-page handbook:

• A 57-point checklist that helps educators determine which systems might be affected by the Y2K bug. Obvious computer devices are mentioned, as well as not-so-apparent equipment like heating systems, food refrigeration units, security systems, televisions, and elevators.

• Computer tests you can use to determine whether equipment correctly rolls over to 2000, as well as testing for next year’s leap year. Ironically, 2000 will be the first time in 400 years that the beginning of a new century will include a leap day–Feb. 29. That’s because, the guide explains, years divisible by 100 are ordinarily not leap years–except if they are divisible by 400.

• Web site addresses for helping determine whether computers, software, networks, office equipment, and embedded devices such as utilities and heating systems are Y2K compliant.

• Sample letters to vendors inquiring if equipment is compliant, will be made compliant, or can’t be made compliant.

• Contract and procurement language with suggested wording to ensure schools enter into agreements to ensure that new equipment will be delivered Y2K-OK.

• A web site address for America’s Job Bank to locate programmers who can assist in Y2K renovation.

• A 12-step guide for contingency planning–just in case something happens despite the best efforts to avoid a Y2K crash.

• Web addresses for more than a dozen valuable Y2K sites (see Links below).

The handbook includes a section on “Key Dates to Consider,” noting that one of the first big hurdles to clear will be Sept. 9, 1999. The problem is that “9-9-99” is commonly used to indicate an unknown date in six-character data entry fields that do not require a leading zero. Early programmers used the notation because it was easy to type and yet far enough in the future to be easily differentiated from “real” dates.

“As 9-9-99 nears, it will become impossible for the computer user to know if the entry is valid or not,” the guide states.

The following day, Sept. 10, could also be a problem. In systems that used 9-9-99 as a never-expire date, computer code that prevents deletion of data before that date might fail. In that case, entries that should be protected forever might not be, the handbook warns.

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Philanthropist gives Encarta Africana to every NYC public school: $80K donation to help students understand ‘cultural history’

Every public school in New York City will receive a free CD-ROM encyclopedia of black history, thanks to a successful investor who never forgot how he made it big.

When Alphonse Fletcher Jr. was a teen-ager, he spent many nights in front of a computer his parents had given him. He went on to Harvard, then Wall Street.

On Feb. 23, he announced his gift, valued at $80,000, at a news conference at New York State Board of Education headquarters in Brooklyn.

“My own experiences with computers, forming my educational development and also the role they’ve played in my business–all of that led me to be a very strong advocate for making computers accessible,” said Fletcher.

A multimillionaire before he turned 30, he now runs his own firm, Fletcher Asset Management Inc., and is one of the country’s most prominent black investors and philanthropists.

And he’s never forgotten the computer that opened his mind 20 years ago.

Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew said the CD-ROMs will get kids excited both about reading and about using computers. But he added that the subject matter–black history–is what’s really key.

“It isn’t just reading–it’s reading and knowing your own life, knowing your own ability to make a contribution to your cultural history,” Crew said.

New York City has the largest public school system in the nation, with more than 1 million students and 1,136 elementary, middle, and high schools. More than a third of the students are black.

The CD-ROM–Microsoft Corp.’s Encarta Africana–has 3,361 entries, including 2,200 photos, audio selections, and video segments.

Among the user-friendly film clips are Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech; Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in South Africa; a baseball play by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series; Bill Robinson–Mr. Bojangles–tap-dancing on a staircase; Jesse Owens winning the 100-meter dash in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany; Joe Louis’ 1938 knockout punch delivered to Max Schmeling; Louis Armstrong singing; and a mini-documentary about Africa’s earliest city, Kerma, in the Kingdom of Kush.

The encyclopedia was edited by two well-known Harvard professors of Afro-American history, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah.

“We’ve published an encyclopedia about the whole black world, starting with Lucy, our common human ancestor in Ethiopia, going through Egypt, all the way up to the birth of rap music and hip-hop culture,” Gates said.

Only 19 percent of black households have computers, said Gates, who likened the lack of computer literacy among blacks to a form of slavery.

“(Technology is) essential to learning in the 21st century,” said Gates. “We’re so far behind in terms of basic literacy, and now we’re getting behind in terms of information literacy.”

Encarta Africana retails for $69.95. A printed version is due to be published in November.

Lesson plans for helping teachers integrate the product into the classroom are available through Microsoft’s Encarta Schoolhouse web site.

Fletcher Asset Management Inc.

http://fam-inc.com

Microsoft Corp.

http://www.microsoft.com

Microsoft’s Encarta Schoolhouse

http://encarta.msn.com/schoolhouse

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