States announce plans to spur professional development

In recent months, studies showing that technology training for teachers hasn’t kept pace with its expansion into the classroom have become commonplace. But three states in particular–Pennsylvania, Idaho, and South Dakota–have developed creative solutions to counter the problem.

Pennsylvania has awarded nearly $2 million in grants to spark the development of online professional development resources for educators. With funds from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, one-third of Idaho’s public school instructors will learn about teaching with technology in the next three years. And South Dakota is offering a free internet file server as incentive for administrators to attend the state’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy this summer.

The Pennsylvania grants, totaling $1.8 million, were given to eight colleges, intermediate units, and private education institutions to create high-quality, web-based professional development programs to assist teachers in implementing the state’s new academic standards.

“We are working to use new technologies, such as CD-ROM and the web, to deliver training, given the geographic size of Pennsylvania and the travel that is often required for training,” said John Bailey, director of the state’s Office of Educational Technology.

Pennsylvania’s new academic standards, which went into effect in January, outline what students should know by the end of grades three, five, eight, and 11. Student and school progress will be measured with state assessment tests aligned with the new standards. Technology standards, which are under review by the state board of education, will also be included.

Grants were awarded to projects using technology to expand teacher access and create permanent electronic resources for professional development. Penn State University, for example, received $67,000 to create a “virtual workspace” for teachers to plan, develop, share, and publish standards-based instruction. Berks County Intermediate Unit received $200,000 to create a web site that incorporates lessons, assessments, units of instruction, and training materials.

Idaho, meanwhile, will use part of an $80 million grant from the Albertson Foundation to launch a three-year Teaching with Technology initiative. By the end of the project, more than a third of the state’s teachers will have received technology training.

The state has partnered with Human Code, a Texas-based interactive technology company, to provide the training. The program includes a week-long summer session with teachers, a peer review during the school year, and a showcase of successful practices during the summer of 2000.

Besides training, the project will provide at least 30 new high-tech classrooms in schools across the state over the next three years. These “model classrooms” will serve as hubs for a sophisticated videoconferencing network that will be used to deliver the training and will also be available for use during the school year, according to David Palumbo, Human Code’s vice president of learning technologies.

The first workshops in the Teaching with Technology series will kick off with 900 teachers in 15 locations by the end of June. Human Code will design and build the high-tech classroom environments, which will be located within existing elementary, middle, and high schools in each region of the state.

Not to be outdone, South Dakota will run its own teacher training sessions this summer. When school starts next fall, South Dakota’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy–now in its third year–will have trained more than 2,000 of the state’s 9,000 classroom teachers.

As an incentive for school leaders to participate in the training, Gov. Bill Janklow promised that all schools sending an administrator to the academy in Rapid City this summer will receive a new file server for their districts, courtesy of the state.

Savvy school leaders, coupled with the completion of a statewide school wiring program in the next few months, will give South Dakota the tools for success in the next century, Janklow said.

“That’s when things get exciting,” he said. “Where we have always trailed the world economically, we don’t have an excuse in the world that starts in 2000.”

Pennsylvania Department of Education

Idaho Department of Education

J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation

Human Code

South Dakota Home Page


eRate funding won’t meet demand: Schools request more than $2.4 billion in discounts in the program’s second year

Schools and libraries nationwide have requested more than $2.4 billion in eRate discounts for the 1999-2000 program year, according to an estimate by the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate.

The $2.435 billion figure exceeds the $2.25 billion spending cap placed on the program by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when the eRate was first established.

“The level of demand in year two is evidence of the commitment of teachers, librarians, administrators, volunteers, business and community leaders to provide children and communities across the country with modern technology for learning,” said SLD president Kate L. Moore, who noted that 84 percent of Forms 470 and 28 percent of Forms 471 were filed online this year.

More than 32,000 applications were submitted before the filing window closed on April 6, the SLD said–an increase of 2,000 applications over the first year.

About 38 percent of requests, or $930 million, were for so-called “priority one” services–telecommunications services and internet access. Sixty-two percent, or $1.5 billion, were for internal connections or local area networking projects.

Some schools and libraries that applied for funding last year didn’t receive their funding commitments until a few months ago. But the huge demand for second-year discounts signals that school leaders weren’t entirely put off by the program’s rocky start.

Schools began applying for second-year discounts on Dec. 1, 1998. This year, the SLD established a longer application window (126 days, compared to last year’s 75-day window) to give educators and librarians enough time to complete the two-part application process after learning of their first-year eRate funding.

The $2.4 billion demand for discounts was estimated through a statistical sampling of more than 15,000 applications filed within the window, the SLD said. The agency has reported its findings to the FCC, which at press time was still deciding how much to fund the program in year two.

Last year, under intense political pressure, the FCC voted to scale back the collection of fees from telecommunications companies, which pay for the eRate, to $1.93 billion over 18 months. Whether the FCC funds this year’s program at $2.25 billion or less, one thing is clear: This year’s funding, like last year’s, won’t fully meet the demand.

According to the FCC, the same rules of priority for funding that were adopted last summer will apply this year as well. Funds for “priority one” services will be allocated first, and funds for internal connections will be allocated on a per-need basis, beginning with applicants at the 90 percent discount level and then–to the extent that funds remain–to applicants at each descending single discount percentage (89 percent, 88 percent, etc.).

All schools and libraries that turned in completed applications before the window closed at 11:59 p.m. EST on April 6 are entitled to discounts on telecommunications services and internet access. Applicants who requested discounts for internal connections once again will have to wait and see whether their requests will be funded.

The SLD hopes to issue funding commitments before the start of the second program year on July 1.

In the first program year, the SLD received 30,000 applications within a 75-day application window. About 26,000 of these applications received some eRate funding for the 1998 funding year, which runs through June 30, 1999. Internal connections were funded for last year’s applicants who qualified for discounts of 70 percent or more.

Schools and Libraries Division

Federal Communications Commission


eSN Special Report–The Hill School upgrades its network capabilities

Rick Bauer, chief information officer for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., joined the school in 1997 to help prepare it for the next millennium. “The administration saw the potential that computers and networking offered, but did not have a clear plan to help students take advantage of it,” he said.

The 500-student private high school since has instituted an aggressive technology program. Students now are expected to use laptop computers to take notes, classrooms are wired so curriculum can be tightly tied to computer-based instruction, and a handful of programming classes are offered.

Along with the school’s change in outlook, students’ use of the internet swelled, multimedia applications began to emerge, and the school wanted to hold videoconferences with sister sites in Australia and England. To support its increased technology focus, the school needed to upgrade its network infrastructure.

Because it placed strong emphasis on voice and video, The Hill School opted to deploy an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) backbone network. After talking with a handful of suppliers, the school purchased equipment from Siemens Information and Communication Networks Group of Munich, Germany. “We felt the ATM spec was still in flux at the time, but it seemed Siemens was standards-driven and would quickly offer compliant products,” Bauer explained. Also, the company offered both data and voice ATM equipment, while other suppliers focused on one or the other.

By the fall of 1997, the high school had installed the network, which connects 36 buildings on campus. In addition to wiring classrooms and administrative buildings, the high school ran a voice connection and a data line to each dorm room. “We wanted to make it simple for students to access computer resources,” Bauer said.

While upgrading the network, the school decided to revamp its servers, which were a hodgepodge of PC and UNIX systems. “Management was difficult, because each department had been able to purchase its own equipment,” Bauer said. “We wanted the new system to enable members of the IT department to leave work at 5 p.m., rather than troubleshoot the network all night.”

The high school migrated to servers from Dell Computers Inc. of Round Rock, Tex., running Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system to support academic and administrative tasks. Now, the school relies mainly on Microsoft and Siemens tools to ensure that the network and its servers are available. “We have a lot more visibility into and control over the network and computers now, because the equipment is the same from department to department,” Bauer said.

But the school needed one more management tool. With so much information flowing over the network, the school had to be sure that information was secure. “We wanted to deploy the network as an idealist, but secure it as a Calvinist,” Bauer joked.

Since anyone could log onto a system, it was possible that first a faculty member and later a student would work with the same PC. The Hill School had to be sure that the students wouldn’t be able to access confidential information.

For this task, the school selected WinShield Secure Desktop from Citadel Technology of Dallas. “The Citadel software worked with a variety of desktop clients,” Bauer said.

The product’s usage feature controls the length of time a user has access to a computer system or an application: An administrator can define the length of system inactivity before a user would automatically be logged off. “We wanted to be sure that if a teacher was called away from a machine and left it operating, a student wouldn’t be able to use it to access private data,” Bauer said.

The product offers other benefits as well. Users often cause system problems by installing unauthorized software, downloading drivers, or changing system settings. WinShield’s folder protection feature enables a network administrator to control access to specific files, folders, desktop shortcuts, or even drives so private information will remain that way and students can’t copy, move, delete, or rename files. The product also gives schools the ability to secure files and folders as read-only and to prevent changes to file attributes.

In addition, an administrator can allow the use of an application, but restrict certain application functions, menus, and options. The product disables menu items and features in Windows applications. For instance, an administrator can disable the Options item from the Tool menu in Microsoft Word.

Use of the software has helped keep problem calls to a minimum. “The WinShield product has enabled us to balance offering students and teachers flexibility in accessing systems with our need to control the information they work with,” Bauer said.

The Hill School declined to implement WinShield Secure Desktop’s filtering capabilities. “We understand that the internet–like the rest of the world–is not a perfect place, and there may be times when students will access inappropriate materials,” Bauer said. “Rather than watching everything they work with and reprimanding them when they make bad choices, we would rather focus on providing them with the background needed so they make good decisions.”

Yet, even the best filtering tools may not be enough to keep its students from accessing inappropriate materials. The Hill School offers classes in not only C++, Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and the world wide web, but students can even become Microsoft Certified Engineers, a classification normally associated with full-time computer industry professionals.

Its network emphasis has pushed the school to technology’s leading edge. The school is now moving to voice-over internet protocol (IP), an emerging specification that enables an organization to run its voice communications over its local access networks. “Implementing voice-over IP will eliminate redundancy and simplify management,” Bauer said.

As the next millennium approaches, The Hill School seems well-positioned to take advantage of emerging computer and networking technology.


eSN Special Report: What’s the best choice for school network operating systems?

Every now and again it happens. I’m at some ed-tech conference at lunch or between presentations talking shop with an admin from another school. Invariably the topic of conversation turns to which network operating system is a better choice for schools–Novell’s NetWare or Microsoft’s Windows NT. Our school is mainly a NetWare shop, so it seems strange to me that the most hard-headed discussions I’ve had on the topic are with other NetWare admins.

The trouble usually starts when I mention to them that we’re working to integrate a couple of NT servers into our network. About this time, I’m usually made to feel like a traitor who has fallen victim to the Microsoft marketing machine. Soon they start quoting benchmarks which demonstrate that NetWare outperforms NT for file and print sharing and they cite the multi-processor enhancements and improved multitasking in NetWare 5. All of this is usually tinged with a slight tone of self-importance, which comes, I believe, from their perception that NetWare takes more technical expertise to configure and operate.

The more I have these conversations, the more they start to sound like the Mac vs. PC argument that has been wasting time and bandwidth on ed-tech listservs since the mid-’80s. This upsets me because I refuse to engage in those discussions for one simple reason. People’s arguments are almost never based in technology. Instead, you end up having a conversation disguised as technical which is really motivated by brand loyalty, comfort level with a platform, or a company’s ad campaign.

This is troubling. As technical people, we’re supposed to see through the market hype and make decisions on things like how the OS multitasks, how it handles file caching, or how powerful the management tools are. We, of all people, should not be falling victim to advertising, brand loyalty, and which company has a slicker logo.

The fact of the matter is, both operating systems have some very alluring strengths–and some disconcerting weaknesses. Microsoft’s inability to deliver Active Directory has placed Novell as the definitive leader in the directory services arena. This could be a concern for larger schools or districts who want to centrally manage all resources. Its pre-emptive multitasking architecture also makes file and print sharing slightly slower than NetWare’s.

On the other hand, server side and web-based applications are much easier to deploy in an NT environment and tend to be a little more stable under NT. Both platforms offer desktop management features which, when coupled together, give the average school administrator more control over the desktop and user environment than he ever dreamed possible.

Our school has started with Novell and NDS as the building block for its network. Using NDS along with several add-on products, we have been able to achieve both a single sign-on for all users and a single point of administration for administrators. Users only need to remember one password for all file servers, eMail accounts, and proxy server access. Administrators only have to make changes to user accounts in a single place.

Using NDS, we are also able to distribute administration tasks among several people and to hierarchically organize users according to class and/or job function. This has made student user management much easier. NDS also allows partitioning and replicating its database over a wide area network (WAN) which would be attractive to managers of district-wide networks.

Perhaps the most challenging part of a school network administrator’s job is securing the desktop. Unlike our counterparts in corporations, we’re faced with users who tend to be more curious, and in some cases more malicious, with public access machines placed in labs. The combination of Windows NT at the server level and the workstation level has given my staff an unprecedented level of control over the user environment.

NTFS file system permissions are set on every workstation to prevent students from tampering with or deleting any files. System Policies grant various levels of permissions to users based on whether they are students, teachers, or system administrators.

Finally, I’ve been able to set up a mandatory profile for students, which they have read-only access to on the server. This means that the MS Office toolbar stays in the same place, and the wallpaper and desktop shortcuts never change. Application settings in programs like Word and Explorer are also consistent for all students every time they log in. I’ve been able to store roaming profiles for all faculty members in their Novell home directory by creating an NT desktop policy package using NDS and Novell’s Z.E.N. Works.

My goal is to use the strength of both these platforms to provide better service to our users and increase our network management efficiency. Using NDS, I can give my users a single log-in name and password, which gives them access to all network resources including eMail and the proxy server. NDS for NT also gives them seamless access to the NT domain from the same username and password.

I also have a single point of administration through NetWare Administrator. This gives me an amazing level of control over the user’s desktop environment. I can configure policy settings and desktop environments for different users through NT’s system policies and user profiles, which are based on NDS user containers and groups. The presence of an NT server also allows me to deploy more client-server applications and to publish applications to the web more easily using IIS.eSN Special Report In short, I see these two operating systems working very nicely together to provide a wealth of features to my users and myself. NetWare provides the main directory of users through NDS as well as file and print sharing. NT integrates into this directory through NDS for NT and provides application services and desktop management through Z.E.N. Works and system policies. For the time being, anyway, I think I’ll eat lunch by myself when I go to conferences.


Ethics & Law: Competing technologies create ethical dilemmas

When the noted science fiction author Robert Heinlein used the acronym TANSTAAFL in his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, he was coining a hard-to-pronounce catchword for the truism that There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch. No phrase could more aptly capture the impact of exchanging free hardware or net access to schools for allowing the “donor” to display advertisements in the headers, footers, and borders of the web pages whenever a user is online.

One of these companies, ZapMe!, gives schools “free” computers packaged with a satellite internet service. The ad-bots show up in one corner of the monitor.

Much like the free cable TV service available under the Channel One program, the ZapMe! entrepreneurs want a target audience for their sponsors. By obtaining information on student grade levels, the company is able to target its ads to a particular age group. Each time a student uses the equipment, the ads are a fixed part of the screen content.

Critics assail the pollution of educational programs with commercial come-ons, while supporters extol the benefits of greater student access to the web (which, of course, is de riguer for school districts that want to be a part of the latest trends in the ed biz). Proponents also point out that advertising is ubiquitous on the web and they minimize the impact of targeted appeals to their students’ buying habits (and other more subtle impacts, such as building name recognition and brand loyalty).

On the other side of the coin is the new WebWasher software from Siemens AG, the telecommunications giant. This program, which is offered free to schools, is claimed to detect and obscure 90 percent of the ads that flourish on an increasing number of web sites. As a bonus, the program may even speed up the downloading of desired content. Critics of this approach point out that this type of program can often reduce the graphical content of web pages they believe hold the interest of students.

The juxtaposition of the ad and anti-ad software expands the ethical dilemmas that face school officials. Do we let the ads flow with their intended mind-washing content or do we flush them away? That’s the choice administrators, teachers, and school boards face. But the availability of competing technologies could lead to some legal complications as well.

School districts taking advantage of the free hardware for ads enter into contractual relationships that usually require minimum usage and guarantee that students will be exposed to the commercials. Installing any software that defeats the ads would certainly violate those agreements.

But individual schools, teachers, and students may have a different view, and the control of “ad-cleaning” software at each site would be difficult. It would be ironic indeed if a school system obtained free computers and ended up being sued because the users of those machines circumvented the banner ads that paid for them.

Well, no one ever said that the fast-moving technical advances flooding our schools would reduce the number of legal and ethical issues that already abound. And, of course, Heinlein’s timeless prediction embodied in TANSTAAFL is food for thought in any context, including the cyber world.


Stakeholder & Community Relations–Images and insights taken from Columbine

“It broke my heart.”–Allie, age six.

Teddy bears and football jerseys. Pinwheels and flamingos. Rosaries and roses. Volleyballs and wind chimes. Balloons, cards, collages, letters, posters, notes, Popsicle stick art, and sculpture. A muddy hill. Makeshift crosses. Rachel’s car.

There are many images I will always carry with me from my week in Littleton–the grace and resilience of the Columbine students as they eulogized their classmates and thanked their teachers, calmly describing the day “we all had to run for our lives.” The bandages, kind words, and brave smiles of the survivors.

The love, pride, and protectiveness in the Columbine principal’s eyes as he watched his students tell their stories to the press after their first day back at school. The exhaustion. The hope.

The sheer grit and guts of the communications staff as they juggled impossible demands and deadlines, including the onslaught of more than 750 worldwide media outlets and the impromptu tent city they created across from the high school.

One of the most deadly crimes in the history of American education, the Columbine tragedy makes the term “crisis management” seem woefully inadequate to describe the magnitude of what Jefferson County Public Schools and its community are dealing with.

Having seen and experienced just part of it first-hand, let me make this perfectly clear: We’re not ready. You’re not ready. No one is ready for this. And no one will ever know, fully, why it happened.

While it’s way too early to glean any definite lessons, here are a few insights and tips fresh from the frontlines of crisis communication:

The news media, led by CNN and the web, play a dominant role in shaping the world’s coverage and interpretation of events.

If we didn’t understand this when Princess Diana died, Columbine brought it all home again, with second-by-second coverage and online news updates and chat rooms, 24 hours a day.

As school communicators, we need to understand this new medium and know who the new players are. We need to be able to talk their language and find ways to partner that keep everyone sane.

CNN, for example, played a critical leadership role in the “media pools” we set up with a handful of representatives from television, print, radio, and photographic press to give the press controlled access to important events and people without creating a media circus.

They worked within our guidelines (no images or close-ups of victims or their families, for example), and fed the coverage to the rest of the world via satellite, so everyone could get everything–all at the same time.

Take a hard look at your telecommunications infrastructure, from phone systems to web site and data management–now.

Jefferson County Public Schools was able to keep most staff, parents, and students “in the loop” with breaking information throughout the crisis, thanks to frequent broadcasts via voice mail, eMail, fax, and the web.

Jeffco also uses Voice Poll (TM) technology, a national product that can quickly compile phone responses to district surveys. Voice Poll can be employed at the drop of a hat to gauge community perceptions and opinions–an important consideration in the days and weeks to come.

These portable systems, fortified by a 15-station command center and an army of cell phones and pagers, are playing a critical role in the day-to-day management of this tragedy and its aftermath.

The soft stuff is the hard stuff.

Teamwork, leadership, cooperation, loyalty, sense of urgency, flexibility, and trust–the traditions, habits, and patterns that make up your organization’s culture, your district’s unique way of doing things–will make or break you during a crisis. Great families pull together when the going gets tough; the same is true for organizations. You might want to give your school and key relationships a climate check-up while you still can.

Columbine. The world has moved on to the next news story, and anxious educators across the country count the days like never before until this school year ends.

Scenes flash across my mind’s eye–the shaking hands and anguished heart of a news photographer. The communications director–Rick Kaufman, APR–with a phone in each ear, pager beeping, five calls on hold, other phones ringing, staff and volunteers lining up behind him for answers and decisions, media tip sheet in hand for final approval, and a press conference only moments away.

The quiet dignity of a SWAT team member as he stood in the Colorado sunshine at Red Rocks Amphitheatre with his two boys, hands on their shoulders, soaking in the healing words and music during the school’s final remembrance ceremony.

But Allie, and her buddies in Brownie Troop 381 from Shepardson Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo., captured it best.

“It broke my heart,” she wrote to Columbine and to all of us, scrawled in crayon on a giant card, a silent sentry poised in the mud at the entrance of a makeshift memorial that moved the world.

Web sites

Jefferson County Public Schools: A special section on Columbine includes an eMail link for messages for staff and students, information on the new Columbine Tribute Fund, how to help, ordering information for “Columbine, Friend of Mine” CD, memorials, related links, resources for parents and community members, news updates, and discussion rooms.

Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance: Offers tips on dealing with trauma for parents, family members, teacher, and staff.

American Psychological Association: Provides statistics on school violence, offers insight into violence prevention, and lists early warning signs.

MNSBC: Provides an extensive resource guide for parents and teachers on Kids and Violence (just keep clicking to make sure you get it all), including information on bullies and victims from top experts.


Vision-tracking goggles boost students’ reading skills: Computerized device lets school officials test students for eye-related reading problems

A new machine called the Visagraph II is being credited with improving students’ reading scores in more than 600 schools, according to its producers. The device, hooked up to special goggles that produce a computerized record of a reader’s eye movements, lets school officials test students for eye-related reading problems, the company said.

Created by Taylor Associates of Huntington Station, N.Y., the Visagraph II can tell whether a student’s eyes are “tracking” correctly, the company said–checking whether the student’s eyes are moving quickly, smoothly, and simultaneously across a line of print. The machine also shows how long a student fixates on individual words, according to Taylor Associates.

“We are dealing with an aspect of reading no one else is doing,” said Stan Taylor, the company’s president. “This supplements what a school is already doing. Schools are basically involved in educational approaches to reading, and we supplement that with a procedural approach.”

As many as 60 percent of students lack visual coordination and tracking ability, Taylor said. For some, this could mean an impediment to learning; for others, it means they don’t read as efficiently as they should, he said.

But even inefficient eye movements can have a significant impact on reading comprehension, Taylor said. Wandering, random-order eye impressions can affect a student’s understanding of a passage by the time the student gets to the end, he said.

The Visagraph II is the result of some 60 years of research in reading technology, according to Taylor. In the 1930s, Taylor’s father and uncle developed some of the first reading instruments in the U.S., he explained. Taylor Associates continues that work by using modern technologies to explore reading proficiency, he said.

The Visagraph II alone can’t make students better readers, but the data it collects can reveal weak spots in reading fluency, said Taylor. Teachers then would provide recommended computer exercises to target the weaknesses and improve students’ reading abilities, he said.

To use the Visagraph II, a student slips on the special goggles and reads a passage selected by the teacher. Infrared optics in the goggles sample eye movements 60 times per second and transfer the data to a computer program, which calculates various measures of reading performance. The student then is tested to see how well he or she understood the passage.

The Visagraph II was introduced four years ago. Initially, the machines were used only by eye doctors, the company said, but have recently reached the classroom.

A Visagraph II machine costs a school about $2,150, according to Taylor Associates, and is reportedly easy to operate. Schools can use it to diagnose vision problems or reading inefficiencies right on campus, reaching thousands of students who otherwise would not get tested, the company said.

Officials at Harrington Elementary School in Denver are convinced of the machine’s value. Dozens of Harrington students were reading well below grade level before the Visagraph II was introduced, according to teacher Marjory Ulm. Already, they are reading where they should be or at a higher level, she said.

Using the Visagraph II, Harrington found that 90 percent of its students had some sort of eye dysfunction, and that the problem was severe in 10 to 15 percent of the students.

One girl’s reading improved two grade levels after just one month of eye training, officials said. A fourth-grade boy who had been diagnosed as having a learning disability jumped almost three grade levels in reading in only a few weeks.

Harrington officials said the therapy has not only dramatically improved reading skills; it has also cut down on student behavioral problems, because students who had a hard time grasping their lessons now can follow them much more easily.

At Harrington, the “time-out” room where disruptive students were sent on a regular basis is now used for storage. And the number of students sent to the principal’s office this school year reportedly is down by 90 percent.

Taylor Associates


Best Practices-Technology: A one-school district in Mississippi proves that size doesn’t matter: Infusion of new technology will give the district’s 320 students all the advantages of larger systems

It may be the smallest school district in Mississippi, but after a recent infusion of more than $250,000 in new computers, equipment, and technology, Benoit School District is one of the most technologically advanced districts around.

At Ray Brooks School–the district’s only school–the sight of scores of Gateway computer boxes arriving this spring was not only a blessing for the school, but also a chance for the students to move into the 21st century.

Benoit Superintendent Suzanne Hawley said she was not only excited for the school district, but more important, for the students “who will use this new equipment to be even better students.”

Ray Brooks has an enrollment of 320 students in grades pre-K through nine.

The technology infusion was made possible through a $142,000 Technology Literacy Challenge Grant, another $97,000 in eRate money, and about $11,000 from the Benoit District Maintenance account.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to do the wiring and obtain internet access that we would otherwise not be able to do,” Hawley said.

The district could have done all this a lot sooner, said Hawley, but the school board wanted to maximize its dollars by waiting to have all the necessary funding in place so that everything could be done at one time, rather than with a piecemeal approach.

“Every classroom is wired. There are computers in every classroom from pre-K through sixth grade, and each teacher in the rooms has a teacher workstation and three student computers,” Hawley said.

The funding for the new technology helped provide teacher and student workstations and printers, network hardware, a file server, CD-ROM tower, multimedia cart, local area network setup, wiring, telephone lines and service, internet access, and instructional software applications.

Ann Clifton, the school district’s technology coordinator, is putting all this together and making sure it works.

The Gateway computer boxes had barely been lifted off the UPS truck when Clifton had teachers, staff, and students delivering the computers and equipment to preassigned locations.

In all, it took just under two hours before all the computers were hooked up and doing a test run.

“We had it all planned out so that when the computers came in, we knew right where to put them,” Clifton said.

Of course, with all the new technology, the school’s 25 certified teachers had to be trained on how to use it.

Some were apprehensive at first, Clifton said.

“We had three or four teachers that didn’t even want to touch the computers when they first got here,” Clifton said.

When it came to training the teachers and their classroom assistants, some eighth grade students were quick to jump in and help.

Far less fearful of the technology than some teachers, these students took charge of preparing a “how to” manual for the instructors.

Now, some of the same teachers who wanted nothing to do with the new technology “are begging for more computers in their classrooms,” Clifton said.

“This is really wonderful for the students, teachers, staff, and even the parents in the school district,” Hawley said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of here when it comes to technology. We’ve planned for the best, and we’re going to see that the best is provided to the students.”

And the community is bound to benefit as well.

With the new computers in place, some of the district’s older computers, no longer of much use in the school, are being loaned to families on a rotating basis, giving parents with little exposure to computers a chance to learn the basics.

The district will further its outreach activities after having been awarded a grant to launch a community computer program. The lab will help some of the area’s undereducated adults prepare to take the GED.


Newslines–High court upholds law to block eMail smut

A federal law aimed at limiting eMail smut does not violate free-speech rights, the Supreme Court said. The court’s unanimous decision, issued without an opinion, rejected a computer technology company’s argument that one part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 threatens free-speech rights.

The law had been attacked by ApolloMedia Corp., a San Francisco-based firm that developed the web site to let people anonymously communicate their opinions to public officials by using language some might consider indecent.

The challenged provision of the law makes it a crime to transmit a “communication which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.” The provision applies to all eMail, even messages sent from one friend or acquaintance to another.

While ApolloMedia’s 1997 lawsuit was pending, the Supreme Court struck down another provision of the Communications Decency Act making it a crime to send any “obscene or indecent” material on the internet knowing it could be seen by someone under 18.


Computer take-home program gives kids more time to learn: Partnership between Dell and Jostens makes it easy for schools to set up a take-home program

A program launched this month by Dell Computer and Jostens Learning aims to make computer take-home programs easier for schools. The program, called Take Home Connection, pairs Dell Latitude laptop computers with Jostens Tomorrow’s Promise curriculum software to give students a convenient take-home solution.

The program’s special attraction, the companies said, is the assistance it provides to school technology managers. Support and services are built in to help get a computer take-home program off the ground, including a step-by-step guide for schools on establishing and managing such a program, professional development for teachers, a home guide for parents and students, and curriculum supplements tailored by grade and subject.

“This is really a comprehensive program,” said Jostens representative Karen Bowman. “We’re not just handing you computers and saying, ‘Here, send these home with your students.'”

According to the two companies, Take Home Connection offers a complete and flexible solution for schools looking to extend learning hours beyond the final bell.

“In today’s fast-paced society, it has become increasingly important to give children and their families tools for promoting at-home learning and the opportunity for academic success,” said Terry Crane, president of Jostens Learning. “Students are able to extend their learning day, teachers gain additional tools for individualized instruction, and families can better support their children’s learning.”

Software is available in one of six preconfigured bundles and can be customized further to meet a school’s or district’s specific needs. With a selection of 30 CD-ROMs, the program offers grade-level reading, math, language arts, spelling, science, and algebra curricula.

To qualify for the program, a minimum of 25 Latitude laptops must be bought or leased. Each machine sells for $2,160 per unit and has a Pentium II processor, CD-ROM player, mouse, and carrying case. Additional peripherals, such as modems, are available as well.

The laptops are backed by a three-year on-site warranty in most states.

“Dell’s Latitude notebook, coupled with Jostens Learning curriculum software, gives parents, students, and schools an innovative way to extend student learning beyond the classroom,” said Bill Rodrigues, vice president and general manager for Dell’s K-12 education segment.

The software bundles cost from $10,500 to $26,000 for up to 50 students. Included in this price are the school and home guides, one year of toll-free phone support for schools, one day of professional development training for teachers, and four additional days of professional development, during which teachers learn how to prepare parents for the program.

“We’re trying to make the implementation and training as complete as possible so that everybody–the students, parents, and teachers–gets the most out of this program,” Bowman said.

The venture builds on the companies’ existing relationship. Jostens has been an active member in the Dell Education Alliance, a consortium of hardware and software manufacturers committed to providing computing solutions tailored for the education market and for individual school districts.

Dell Computer

Jostens Learning