Mississippi Delta teachers to receive free internet training:

During a visit to east Arkansas in December, President Clinton and Education Secretary Richard Riley announced a program to provide free training on using the internet in the classroom for 100,000 teachers in the seven-state Mississippi Delta region.

The announcement of the free internet training program, called the MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative, was part of Clinton’s ongoing efforts to increase the prosperity of the Delta region.

The initiative, which is funded by the MCI WorldCom Foundation, will give teachers “unprecedented access to the kind of world-class educational materials that in the past only the wealthiest school districts could afford,” Clinton said.

Teachers in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee will learn over the next two years how to use the internet in general, and the MarcoPolo web site in particular, as a teaching resource.

The MarcoPolo web site provides lesson plans, panel-approved web links, and original content developed by some of the most prestigious educational organizations in the country, said Caleb Schutz, vice president of the MCI WorldCom Foundation.

Training will be offered to teachers in the Delta states free of charge and is “intended to impact every classroom in every school” in the seven states, Schutz said.

“When I first heard of the program, I thought it was a software package,” said Myrtle Jameison, a high school teacher in Earle, Arkansas. “I didn’t realize it was internet access. It’s just a matter of going to their site.”

She said her students have already surfed the MarcoPolo web site after learning about it during the president’s visit.

“You don’t have to worry about the students getting into something they shouldn’t,” Jameison said. “If they pull information up, you know it’s correct.”

The MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative is a partnership between the MCI WorldCom Foundation and seven leading nonprofit educational organizations.

Partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Kennedy Center, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Geographic Society.

The MCI WorldCom Foundation has been dedicated to developing quality internet content for schools for more than three years, Schutz said.

The foundation spends between $4 million and $8 million each year on the MarcoPolo program as a corporate philanthropy project for MCI WorldCom, a global leader in communications services with operations in more than 65 countries.

“We do want to make a profound difference in education in this country,” Schutz said. “And we want to be recognized for doing that.”

The training offered by the foundation works as a pyramid system. Instructors from MarcoPolo train a group of teachers about the program, and those teachers pass on what they have learned to other teachers in their region.

“Unless someone actually demonstrates that this is useful, [teachers] are not going to use it,” said Fred Haller, director of instructional technology at Severn School in Severna Park, Md. Haller also is an instructor for the MarcoPolo program.

Haller said he shows teachers how useful the MarcoPolo program is by walking them through it. The training program is flexible and tailored to the recipient’s needs. “Some of the people I have trained literally needed to be trained on how to use the web,” he said.

Teachers learn how to use a search engine, how to use a web browser, and how resources from the MarcoPolo web site can be used in the classroom.

The MarcoPolo site is designed to avoid several problems involved in internet research, such as finding credible sources, linking to inappropriate sites, and getting lost in a sea of information.

Every link has been reviewed by college professors and experts in the field, Haller said. The site is limited to about 100 links to make research more manageable.

“The lesson plans that are listed are also cross-referenced with national standards,” Haller said. Lesson plans go through “a rigorous evaluation process.” They are peer-reviewed, edited, and re-edited. Cash grants are available to those who contribute lesson plans to the program.

Any state or school district across the country may apply to participate in the training program by filling out an application on the MarcoPolo web site. Districts that participate in the program will receive on-site training sessions taught by internet education specialists and copies of the MarcoPolo Teacher Training Kit, which contains a trainer’s guide, CD-ROM, mouse pad, and classroom poster.

The program is targeted to teachers who must meet rigorous academic goals set by their school districts, according to the foundation.

MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative
http://www.mciworldcom.com/marcopolo

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Microsoft names new CEO, vows to fight breakup:

In the wake of management maneuvers at the world’s largest software company, a spokesman told eSchool News the appointment of Steve Ballmer as new CEO of Microsoft would have no adverse impact on the School Interoperability Framework and said the reorganization, in fact, would enhance the company’s ability to serve K-12 education.

Educators from coast to coast were keeping a close eye on moves at Microsoft, because an increasing percentage of school computers use Windows operating systems and because the company has played a leading role in an interoperability initiative designed to ensure the compatibility of all major categories of school management software.

On Jan. 13, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates promoted Ballmer, his longtime friend and company president, to chief executive officer of the software giant that Gates co-founded.

Gates, who stepped aside as chief executive, will remain chairman and will also take over the newly created position of “chief software architect.”

Though Gates has focused more of his efforts on his vision for Microsoft and the computer industry in recent months, the Microsoft announcement did not necessarily mean he is giving up any power in the company he co-founded in 1975 with Paul Allen.

Some observers speculated that the move was intended to position Microsoft to weather a potential breakup of the company proposed informally by the U.S. Justice Department just days before the announcement. As sketched out by Justice Department sources, the plan would break Microsoft into three separate companies.

Ballmer wasted no time in describing his position on the company’s federal antitrust woes.

“I think it would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible for anyone to try to break up this company,” Ballmer said at the news conference announcing his appointment. “I think it would be unprecedented, and I think it would be the single greatest disservice that anybody could do to consumers in this country.”

Microsoft is being sued by the Justice Department and 19 state attorneys general for alleged antitrust violations, such as squeezing Netscape Communications Corp. out of the web software market and forcing such companies as America Online Inc. and IBM to use its software instead of its competitors’.

In its defense, Microsoft has said that the industry is constantly evolving, and that its past actions did not damage its competitors. On Jan. 13, Ballmer and Gates pointed to the proposed merger of America Online and Time Warner Inc. as evidence that competitors were thriving.

With Gates remaining as chairman and taking on the role of “chief software architect,” the company hopes to create a new software platform that uses the internet to deliver personal data to any device, wherever the user happens to be.

Microsoft’s sudden emphasis on this new generation of software—which would be delivered across high-speed internet connections—gives some credence to its arguments during its government antitrust trial that it will face unprecedented competition.

Gates offered an alternative explanation for the management move. He took the action, he said, so he can return “to what I love most—focusing on technologies for the future,” he said. Over the past year and a half, Gates has turned over much of the day-to-day operations of Microsoft to Ballmer.

Microsoft has made Gates the wealthiest private individual in the world, with a fortune estimated at more than $80 billion. Meanwhile, his company has become the dominant force in the software industry, with its Windows operating systems on more than 90 percent of personal computers.

Gates said he planned to dedicate all of his time to fashioning and promoting the “next generation” of Microsoft’s flagship product operating system. At press time, the latest version, Windows 2000 for business computers, was being readied for release.

Gates said he especially wants to develop software services that will be hosted on the internet and made part of future versions of Windows.

Microsoft is working to make its popular software, especially its Office suite of business programs, available over the internet, in addition to the traditional way of loading it onto individual personal computers.

Gates described the move as “a personal decision, one I have discussed with Steve and our board of directors for some time.

“Steve’s promotion will allow me to dedicate myself full time to my passion—building great software and strategizing on the future and nurturing and collaborating with the core team helping Steve run the company.”

Ballmer will retain his title of president. He also was set to take a seat on Microsoft’s board of directors, effective Jan. 27.

“I’m certainly honored and very, very excited about the opportunity,” Ballmer said.

David Wu, a financial analyst at ABN Amro in San Francisco, said there are few differences between Ballmer and Gates.

“Other than the fact that Steve Ballmer is less rich than Bill Gates, those two are Siamese twins,” Wu said.

Ballmer, 43, was appointed president of Microsoft in July 1998, giving him direct responsibility for improving the performance of all of the company’s divisions, as well as customer satisfaction. The son of Swiss immigrants, Ballmer grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co.

He was brought into the company in 1980, by Gates, whom he met and became friends with when both attended Harvard University in the 1970s. Ballmer was Gates’ best man when he married Melinda French in 1994.

After Gates hired Ballmer, the two reportedly had some rocky times. One anecdote says that in the spring of 1985, as Microsoft’s deadline to produce Windows slipped further and further behind, Gates called Ballmer into his office and threatened to fire him if Windows wasn’t on the shelves by the end of the year (although few people believe Gates, with a notoriously bad temper, was ever serious about firing Ballmer).

Windows was ready by November.

Along with Ballmer’s promotion, Gates announced that Microsoft would develop the Next Generation Windows Services, which will power new products and services over the internet. Microsoft wants to use the internet to transmit data to any device, including computers, cell phones, handheld computers, home electronics—and gear that has not yet been invented.

The new internet-based Windows services will be developed over the next two or three years, with developers getting the first detailed view of Microsoft’s strategy this spring, Gates said.

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

U.S. Justice Department
http://www.doj.gov

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University project to reveal American Indian history on the internet:

Rare manuscripts depicting the life of American Indians from 1763 to 1842 soon will be in the domain of ordinary readers, under a venture by the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee to post the documents on the world wide web.

The collections depict everything from the first contacts of whites and American Indians to the bacon-and-bread rations that defeated natives were given upon being forced from their lands.

“Original manuscript material of this type and from this time period generally exists only in paper form, buried within vaults and closed stacks, available only to the persistent researcher,” said Bob Henneberger, project head with the University of Georgia’s libraries. “Digitization of these materials will provide web access to a substantially larger audience.”

The site will display 1,000 or more original documents and pictures, and will centralize collections from Tennessee and the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The year-long digitization project will be funded through a $330,000 grant from the national Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“The average historian doesn’t have a clue these things exist; there’s a number of different collections, but there was no real intelligent control,” Henneberger said.

Among the documents are a bloodstained letter signed by two wives of a murdered Coweta Indian chief and a Baptist missionary’s notes on the “majestic and warlike” Creeks. There also are documents detailing the Seminoles’ capture of several Georgia slaves and their $20 apiece return price.

One of the rarest pieces from Georgia is a Creek grammar book compiled by the Southern Baptist missionary, the Rev. H.F. Buckner, who lists the Creek alphabet and offers insights into the people.

“The Creeks are brave; and they have been emphatically a warlike people, their history bears ample testimony,” Buckner wrote. “Accordingly, we find that their language is majestic and warlike in its tone, with barely enough vowels to dissolve its consonants with ease.”

The site also will include field notes from decades of archaeological digs at Indian mounds by Tennessee researchers and the first 18 months of a weekly Cherokee newspaper.

It won’t be the first time the University of Georgia has put such rare historical documents on the internet. The Athens school already has a rare map collection on its web site that gets more than 40,000 hits a week.

“I think the web basically just opened up everything,” said Mary Ellen Brooks, director of the university’s Hargrett Library.

University of Georgia
http://www.uga.edu/

University of Tennessee
http://www.utk.edu/

Institute of Museum and Library Services
http://www.imls.fed.us/

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Arizona seeks new laws to battle cybercrimes

To combat constantly evolving computer crime, Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano is proposing a cybercrime law that would create new offenses, increase some existing penalties, and make it easier to track criminal activity over the internet.

Sen. Marc Spitzer, R-Phoenix, and Rep. John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, who chair the Legislature’s judiciary committees, have agreed to sponsor the bill.

“We had cases where we had gaps,” Napolitano said during a Dec. 8 news conference in which she outlined her goals for the next legislative session. “This would be a major advancement for criminal justice in the state of Arizona.”

Among the changes, the bill would:

• Make it a crime to send computer viruses, stalk or harass a person online even if there is no face-to-face contact, and participate in “screen jacking,” where a web site does not allow a browser to exit.

• Increase the penalty for identification theft.

• Allow police to issue a “desk subpoena” to trace the source of criminal electronic activity, instead of forcing them to seek a judge’s approval for a search warrant. The more stringent requirements would remain in place if police wanted to check the contents of a suspect’s computer transmissions.

Napolitano said the proposed law would be flexible to allow law enforcement to adjust to constantly changing effort to use computers for criminal activity.

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News from the companies that supply your schools’ technology solutions

Sagebrush, Winnebago merger creates K-12 powerhouse

Sagebrush Corp. and Winnebago Software Company, two leaders in K-12 information solutions, have completed a merger of their privately held firms.

As of Jan. 14, the combined company will operate as Sagebrush Corp., with headquarters in Burnsville, Minn. With about 600 employees and annual revenues exceeding $75 million, Sagebrush will be one of the largest, fastest-growing firms dedicated to the market for K-12 information solutions—a category that includes library automation systems, quality-bound books, cataloging services, internet solutions, and other educational resources.

“This merger unites two successful companies that emphasize strong customer support, innovation using proven technologies, and highly talented people,” said Jay Stead, president and CEO of the newly combined firm. “By pooling [our] talent, we will accelerate the pace of innovation in our industry… [allowing] our customers to deliver educational services more broadly, effectively, and conveniently than ever before.”

Stead stressed that customers and others can expect continuity following the merger:

• In the library automation market, Sagebrush Corp. will continue to offer all of the products that were sold separately by Winnebago and Sagebrush, and each group of sales reps will continue selling the products it has been selling. The popular Winnebago Spectrum product and Sagebrush’s rapidly growing Athena product will continue to be sold, and prior-generation Winnebago and Sagebrush products will continue to be fully supported. Each of these products offers distinct features and user interfaces.

• Customers can also expect the same level of service and innovation in the company’s other businesses: Sagebrush Learning Resources, which provides K-12 schools and libraries with quality-bound books, reading program software, and other educational materials through Econo-Clad Books and American Library Publishers; and Sagebrush Library Services, which serves publishers and distributors with MARC records, processing, and a comprehensive list of cataloging solutions.

• The Sagebrush and Winnebago work forces are being kept virtually intact. A small number of jobs in each company have been eliminated due to restructuring, and these individuals have been notified.

• The company plans to keep all current Sagebrush and Winnebago locations. Sagebrush locations are in Burnsville, Minn.; Austin, Texas; Topeka, Kan.; and Edmonton, Alberta. Winnebago locations are in Caledonia, Minn., and Onalaska, Wis.

• All contracts with partners and suppliers will continue to be honored.

Winnebago Software founder and CEO Jeb Griffith said he will leave the company following the merger to pursue other professional and personal interests.

A pioneer in the development of library automation software, Winnebago serves more than 26,000 library professionals in more than 70 countries worldwide with library management and internet products and programs for Windows, Mac OS, and MS-DOS.

Burnsville-based Sagebrush Corp. is a fast-growing provider of integrated information management solutions for education. The company offers library automation systems, information solutions, and learning resources, with a focus on the K-12 market.

Gateway founder Waitt steps down as CEO; new education VP named

Gateway founder Ted Waitt has relinquished his title as chief executive officer to president Jeff Weitzen, though he will remain chairman of the board for the computer company known for its cowhide-designed boxes.

“It was the right move at the right time,” Waitt said of the change. “I’m still in a position to be involved in the strategic direction of the company and I will continue to be an active chairman.

“Jeff’s appointment to CEO is really just a formalization of the roles we’ve had for the past couple of years,” Waitt said. “He’s worked extremely hard in preparing Gateway for the [21st] century and he has built a management team capable of executing our goals.”

The change took place Jan. 1.

Weitzen, 43, retains the title of president, continuing to run Gateway’s operations as he has since joining the company in January 1998.

Before Gateway, Weitzen spent 18 years at AT&T, most recently as executive vice president of the Business Markets Division. As head of the $24 billion business unit, Weitzen led the company’s efforts in creating and delivering voice, data, online and emerging electronic commerce services to businesses, the government, resellers, and other long-distance carriers.

Under Weitzen’s leadership, Gateway has branched out from a personal computer hardware manufacturer to a provider of other products and services, including a partnership with American Online that provides internet access with the purchase of most Gateway PCs.

Weitzen also oversaw sharp growth in the Gateway Country store retail chain, which helped the company in the third quarter of 1999 boost its non-system income to 15 percent. The company expects that number to double by the end of next year.

Prior to the change at the company’s helm, Gateway named Tom Fitzgerald to lead its education sales. Fitzgerald, 47, brings more than 25 years of experience in the education marketplace to Gateway. As vice president of education for Gateway Business, he will set the strategic direction for the company’s K-12 and higher education initiatives.

Fitzgerald joined Gateway from Dell Computer, where he most recently served as director of sales for Dell’s K-12 business. Prior to that effort, Fitzgerald also held senior sales management positions in the education division at Apple Computer, Digital Equipment Corp., and Western Union Corp.

Gateway, which went public in 1993, moved its headquarters to San Diego a year ago from Sioux City. The company has 19,300 employees and earned $346 million on $7.5 billion in sales last year.

SmartStuff, Altiris team up to combine product lines

SmartStuff Software Inc., a leading provider of desktop security software for schools, has announced the addition of two new software applications to its FoolProof Solutions line of products for the K-12 market.

The two products are Altiris Inc.’s LabExpert, a remote PC administration and cloning tool that reduces the cost and effort required to configure and manage large populations of Windows PCs, and Vision, an easy-to-use PC demonstration product designed to help instructors teach more successfully in Windows-based computer labs.

The addition of LabExpert and Vision stems from the formation of a strategic partnership between SmartStuff and Altiris, in which the two software applications will be offered as companion products to SmartStuff’s FoolProof line of security and internet filtering solutions.

“Customers have been asking for remote administration and demonstration tools that can work in concert with our FoolProof Security and Internet products for some time,” said Steve Marriner, vice president of marketing for SmartStuff Software. “We chose Altiris because of the breadth and flexibility of its solutions; the LabExpert and Vision products are the only PC management and demonstration tools that are completely compatible with the entire line of FoolProof Solutions, giving us the broadest and most reliable desktop security and management offering available.”

“Offering Altiris products along with FoolProof Solutions from the same source makes a lot of sense for a lot of schools,” said Tyler Smith, vice president of marketing for Altiris Inc. “Customers can now choose from a suite of best-of-breed education solutions from a company with a great reputation for customer service.”

Introduced in 1993, SmartStuff’s FoolProof security solutions now protect more than 2 million computers in over 25,000 schools across North America, according to the company. In 1999, SmartStuff became a division of School Specialty Inc., the largest U.S. distributor of non-textbook educational supplies and furniture for K-12 schools.

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NEA tech exhibit aims to knock your socks off:

Chances are, K-12 administrators would benefit from actually being able to see and play with the state-of-the-art computer equipment on their wish lists before spending any money on these advanced technologies.

That’s what researchers and technology advocates at the National Education Association (NEA) are counting on, anyway, as they announce the opening of a new exhibit, “TECH: Making the Grade.”

The exhibit, which has been five years in the making at NEA, is focused on educating policymakers, parents, community activists, and K-12 leaders about the role of technology in education.

“TECH: Making the Grade” was conceived as a way to address the fact that nearly half of America’s classrooms still have little or no access to technology, and less than 3 percent of schools are effectively integrating technology into instruction, according to NEA figures.

Located in 2,500 square feet of the NEA building’s main floor in Washington, D.C., the “Making the Grade” exhibit serves as a public forum for engaging in and learning about the possibilities for technology in education, and is expected to last three years. Issues addressed by the exhibit include classroom use of technology, managing the business of schooling, improving school-to-home connections, and distance learning.

The exhibit’s designers hope to show the importance of making technology available to students and teachers as a basic resource. “This is an advocacy exhibit,” said Carolyn Breedlove, exhibit manager. “We want folks to see this, get excited about it, and go out and implement these types of things.”

The exhibition hall was funded through partnerships between NEA and several corporations and education organizations. Partners such as Apple, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Compaq, Homework Hotline, NEC, and Prudential contributed time, equipment, and funding to create 16 interactive experiences designed to engage visitors in activities that help define the relationship between technology and students, educators, and schools.

All visitors are encouraged to try their hand at exhibits like “State of the States,” a computer set-up which allows users to find out how their state and others rate on the road to effective use of technology. With a single mouse click, the program gives statistics on state internet access, student to computer ratios, teacher requirements, and levels of integration.

The “Student TV” exhibit is a sophisticated demonstration of technology’s capabilities. It lets users create their own television news shows using video, sound, and actual broadcasting equipment.

Visitors also can check out exceptional personal web sites created by elementary school kids, play with a light-sensing robot created by high-schoolers, and test programs designed to demonstrate the proper use of filtering software.

But the exposition is not just all fun and games. Administrators and technology coordinators will benefit from getting first-hand experience using troubleshooting devices, online support, scheduling, classroom planning, professional development, and student progress-tracking software.

Computers also are set up for visitors to try out specific educational software and web sites to get an idea of the resources available to them.

Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the “Good Connections” demonstration, which shows the technology that is available to create a learning link between the home and the classroom. The demonstration includes “classroom” and “home” components and features technology that opens up the lines of communication through voice messaging, homework hotlines, helplines, school and home web sites, eMail, and interactive cable programming.

“TECH: Making the Grade” also includes a distinctive message panel throughout the exhibit, designed to guide visitors through the displays and help them understand key concepts during and after each experience.

Exhibition staffers say it’s not necessary to make the pilgrimage to Washington to get a feel for the technology demonstrated in “Making the Grade.” Most of the exhibit’s audio and visual components are available at the project’s official web site (see link below).

If you’re interested in visiting the exhibit first-hand, call the NEA at (202) 822-7360 to make group reservations. The optimal group size is about 50 people, but staffers are more than willing to accommodate larger or smaller groups. Exhibit hours are weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but private receptions can be arranged.

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eSN Special Report:

Japanese food on the lunch menu proved to a small Georgia elementary school that folks were reading their internet page.

Patti O’Neal, webmaster at Bright Star Elementary School, had posted the lunch menu for the 500-student Douglasville, Ga., school. Checking what the cafeteria’s serving is just one of the many things parents can find on the school’s internet page, hosted by FamilyEducation Network.

“Oh, [parents] can do anything” on the web page, brags O’Neal, whose main job had been to monitor the school clinic before she volunteered to manage the web page. “Find out about field trips, weekly homework, lunch menus, important dates for each month, school rules, county rules. There’s [even an] eMail address for every teacher.”

About that lunch menu. Seems folks were planning to visit the school for its open house on a day when the cafeteria planned to serve teriyaki beef. But the “f” and the “r” are right next to each other on a keyboard, so what was posted for everyone to see was “teriyaki beer.” And boy, did the office clerk-turned-webmaster hear about it.

“Oh yeah, we heard about it” from dozens of people, chuckles O’Neal in her honey-coated Southern accent.

How many people notice a typo in the lunch menu is just one way schools can gauge whether parents are reading their web pages. For already, the internet is changing how schools communicate with parents.

Better student achievement goes hand in hand with improved communication with parents, any education researcher will tell you. But anyone who’s ever heard the annoying drone of a busy signal when trying to contact a school at quitting time knows how difficult such contact can be.

Changing school habits

Most experts think it’s not a question of whether schools will be communicating with parents via the internet, but how and how soon. In 1998, 89 percent of U.S. public schools and 51 percent of U.S. classrooms had internet access, according the latest federal figures.

Many schools are posting not only lunch menus and announcements, but homework assignments, individual student grades, and attendance.

“We may, indeed, get the internet in classrooms before telephones,” says Jim Hirsch, a member of the executive board of the nonprofit Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Some schools and districts are venturing into cyberspace on their own with web sites hosted by a district server. Others are joining online communities—such as FamilyEducation Network (FEN), The Lightspan Partnership, or nSchool.com—which provide a template schools can use to create and maintain school web pages, without having to learn HTML or web programming. Still others are using third-party grade and attendance software packages that include an online component.

“Being on the internet changes how a school will interact with the local and national community,” says Elliott Levine, communications director for Lawrence, N.Y., Public Schools. “It sets up a series of expectations on how you are going to communicate.”

Schools, like companies, will have to find ways to change their work habits to accommodate that scrutiny. Educators will have to choose whether to have advertising or not, whether to hand out teachers’ eMail addresses, whether web sites can be secure enough for student data, and whether to allow students the same access to information about them as parents.

Experts say some schools haven’t chosen wisely so far.

“There are plenty of school sites out there [where] it would be better if they turned off the switch,” Levine says. “That’s one of the reasons why major, major companies have not gone into the web. They know they are not ready, and that’s okay.”

Too many schools “want to do a web site because they want to be able to say they have a web site,” he adds.

eMail that waits a month for a response isn’t going to speak well of the school. And yet, just having eMail has the potential to alter communications dramatically, says Hirsch, who also is executive director of technology for the Plano, Texas, Independent School District.

“For many teachers, eMail is the number one mode for receiving a request from a parent,” says Hirsch.

Plano, which hosts its own web site, has put internet access into all 3,500 classrooms of the 45,600-student system and given each staffer an eMail account. The district’s goal is for someone to respond to parental requests within 24 hours, Hirsch says.

Still, the value of more traditional modes of human contact is not lost in Texas, for Plano encourages teachers to respond by telephone or a face-to-face meeting.

But many school districts don’t want to distribute teacher eMail addresses to parents, Hirsch says, just as some don’t want to disseminate telephone numbers.

“When we first put eMail out, no one knew what impact it would have on a teacher’s daily life,” says Hirsch. Online grades, accessible daily, may not match a teacher’s normal work style, which may include updating a gradebook at the end of the week.

“I’m going to guess that, on average, from conversations I’ve had with teachers, eMail access to teachers … adds about 15 minutes [to their] day,” says Hirsch.

While that means teachers have to carve time from something else, Hirsch points out that “we’re getting more work accomplished than before.”

Lawrence, N.Y., communications director Levine thinks schools ought to concentrate more on communication than technology. The basic act of setting up a web presence “isn’t that hard,” he says.

“The problem is, everybody is putting this in the hands of technicians who don’t know how to communicate,” says Levine. That’s just like putting the print shop staff in charge of writing the newsletter.

“And what is there different about the web than the newsletter?” he asks.

Levine also complains that some schools have confused the information superhighway with the animation superhighway and created graphic-rich sites with “not a stitch of meaningful content.” One such site had a page with 200K of graphics that took 2.5 minutes to load.

“If I were a parent in that community, I’d be [upset],” he says.

The commercialism factor

Levine and some others are concerned about commercialism on free web sites, such as FamilyEducation’s school network, which he says do nothing more than “sugar coat ‘school communication’ as a method of building hits for a web site and selling ads.”

Jean Armour Polly, a former librarian and author who coined the term “surfing the internet,” says she, too, is concerned about school-endorsed internet sites with loads of advertising.

“It is teaching consumerism to have all those banners in your face and getting mall bucks for doing your homework, encouraging people to stay on and on in chat rooms, and seeing more ads,” says Polly, who maintains the netmom.com web site.

But cash-strapped schools that have signed up for free web sites aren’t complaining. Claudette Rowe, vice president of FamilyEducation affiliate MySchoolOnline.com, says more than 9,000 schools participate in the company’s online programs, which include free web building tools, web site hosting, eMail addresses, and an hour or two of initial training, plus ongoing support and training.

“Not all schools can invest in technology,” says Rowe.

Bright Star Elementary’s O’Neal is thrilled with FEN and isn’t concerned about advertising. If the site had charged, the school probably wouldn’t have a presence on the web.

“I can’t say enough nice things about those folks. For Yankees, they’re not too bad,” she jokes.

MySchoolOnline.com is considering eventually enabling schools to post individual student information, such as grades and attendance, as well as expanding the content to offer more academic help, Rowe says.

Bright Star Elementary doesn’t post grades, and O’Neal is cautious about putting the whole name of children on class lists. She only puts full names and photos of children on the site “with parents’ permission.”

Based largely on FEN’s success, one company that offers schools commercial-free, subscription-supported web site hosting has jumped into the free, advertising-supported web business as well. Last year, The Lightspan Partnership launched a site offering schools and teachers free web site hosting with on-screen sponsorship, according to Winnie Wechsler, a Lightspan executive vice president.

Lightspan, which makes curriculum-based content for the Sony PlayStation, has been marketing the internet-based Lightspan Network, a subscriber service. The network offers online delivery of lessons and a learning search section with more than 115,000 web sites that have been reviewed and ranked by educators.

While Wechsler says it’s too soon to tell how the two services will coexist, the subscription service does offer value-added features, including content tailored to particular state curriculum standards and the ability to customize content.

But thousands of teachers already make use of Lightspan’s free web site service, called PageOne, including Lori Davis.

Davis, a teacher at Princeton Elementary School in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, has used Lightspan’s PageOne feature to post pictures, important dates, and to highlight web sites for parents and students.

“Grandparents from all over the country love Class Album,” she says. “They enjoy seeing children’s work, even though they may be far away. So does my mom, who lives in Oklahoma, and my aunt, who is a retired school teacher.”

A mandate for change

While some educators argue over whether to make individual student data available to parents over the web, the Utah legislature ended the debate last year. Under Utah’s 1999 Digital State law, Utah schools must “make reasonable progress” toward making a student’s grades, progress reports, teacher eMail addresses, and other information available on the internet by July 1, 2002.

The law also directs schools to set up sites that will let teachers, PTAs, and administrators communicate and post school calendars, schedules, teaching plans, curriculum guides, and media resources online.

Vicky Dahn, coordinator of curriculum and instructional technology for the Utah State Office of Education, says most of the state’s 40 school districts are well on their way to making all of these services available, and some are already there. About 45 percent of the state’s districts are using web-based administrative software “with great success,” she said.

Dahn’s office also has a program that is “essentially free to districts” that will provide parental access, and she expects about 40 percent of the state’s districts are, or will be, using that program as well.

Utah’s new law pushed the Cache County School District into using nSchool.com, a sponsor-supported free web site. Judy Gibbons, district technology specialist for Cache County, says nSchool.com lets parents have access to school calendars and lesson plans.

When students needed more than 1K of space for eMailed assignments, nSchool increased the capacity to 3K for everybody. The company also has provided training materials for teachers, parents, and students, says Gibbons.

Some teachers, already burdened with too much to do, have complained, “Don’t make us do more.”

“But they had no choice,” Gibbons explains. “This is required by law.”

While nSchool.com won’t provide grades and attendance online, Gibbons says she thinks computerized student information systems will be able to handle that. However, Gibbons admits this system will require “a bit of duplicate data entry,” which won’t be popular with time-strapped teachers.

Lindsey Cook, president of nSchool.com, says his company plans to release a new version this month with better content.

The nSchool.com sites are financed by education-related sponsors, such as books or tutorial sites where teachers or students can earn credits for online courses. If a child were struggling in algebra, for example, the site might offer the parent the option of a for-pay algebra tutorial.

Other options include test preparation programs to help students pass college admissions examinations or the end-of-course examinations, such as those given in Texas, that are becoming increasingly popular around the nation, Cook says.

Posting grades and attendance

While some schools and vendors aren’t interested in having individual student data online, others say it’s the key to meaningful content.

Lee Wilson of Chancery Software, which is launching an online component to its student information system (SIS) called K12Planet, says individual student data is much more likely to connect with parents than the generic information most school sites offer.

“I don’t care about generic information,” says Wilson. “I care about how [I can] help my kid.”

Several companies that offer SIS software—Excelsior, Chancery, NCS, Parlant, PowerSchool—have a head start in making grades and attendance available online.

Their systems prevent teachers from having to keep two sets of records: gradebooks on paper and on computer. Most, if not all, of these systems enable schools to alert parents, counselors, and teachers of absences, academic problems, and disciplinary actions automatically.

“I wish I had this when my boys were younger,” says Cache County’s Gibbons, a mother of five. “One of my children failed a class, and I wasn’t notified until the term ended.

“My son had been telling me that assignments were not due. But he didn’t want to do them. This way, I will know that, before it’s too late.”

The results of putting individual student data on the internet can be astounding. In one instance, a serviceman stationed in Alaska was using Excelsior’s Pinnacle system to monitor his son’s and daughter’s progress at their school in Florida.

“He was calling his kids [and] saying, ‘What happened today? I got your latest report and I noticed your math grades have really dropped,'” says Don Zaggle, director of marketing for Excelsior Software.

The system also allows principals to look at trends, to see if students seem to be doing better in one particular teacher’s class than in another, or if girls are doing better than boys are. That information can be used to help teachers or students, Zaggle points out.

Pat Punches, principal of White Mountain Junior High School in Rock Springs, Wyoming, enjoys using a similar feature of another brand of software, PowerSchool. Punches uses PowerSchool to see if teachers are giving assignments, marking attendance, and maintaining gradebooks.

“It’s available for me to use as a way to determine whether or not someone is up to snuff,” says Punches.

Punches thinks putting individual student information online is a powerful educational tool: “When an adolescent comes home and says they either didn’t have homework or they did it at school, a parent no longer has to rely on the child’s word.”

Every Monday morning, the PowerSchool system generates a report of every student who is academically ineligible to play sports. Although the system initially declared some students ineligible because teachers hadn’t completed their grades, those students ultimately were declared eligible.

Students who aren’t eligible can’t participate in any games until the following week, and only then if they raise their grades.

One Monday, only eight of 20 eighth-grade basketball players were eligible. A few managed to get notes from teachers who admitted the problem was theirs. By the following Monday, only two were still ineligible.

“They did get a wakeup call,” says Punches.

In the 5,000-student Rock Springs, Wyoming, school district, 80 percent of parents regularly use the system to keep tabs on their children’s academic progress. About half of all parents do this via the internet, says Tom Biedshied, the district’s technology coordinator.

When the school system in this blue-collar Wyoming mining town piloted the program last year, Biedshied says, there was a lot of apprehension.

“When you launch this kind of software, you’re opening the doors wide open to the public and saying, ‘Here’s how we do business on a daily basis,’ which is historically not the way schools operate,” says Biedshied.

The information has radically changed parent-teacher conferences. This year, at the end of the first quarter, most parents walked into class with a print-out in hand. Conference night became more of a social night and an opportunity for parents to find out about what was happening in class, rather than focusing on student progress.

Biedshied says the program has actually saved the district money, cutting the $25,000 annual expense for producing grade reports down to about $6,000 in maintenance, since all grading and reporting is done by computer. The district opted to dispense with mid-term progress reports, since parents can get the same information online or via phone.

About 1,500 schools nationwide are using ParentLink, a product of Parlant Technology, which has produced a new version of the software that allows parents to get grades, attendance, and class registration information either online or by telephone. The cost, depending on the size of the school, ranges from $5,000-$20,000 but averages $10,000, says Parlant’s Charles Rogell.

ParentLink is a hit with parents at the Bellwood-Antis School District in Pennsylvania, where 99 percent of parents surveyed after a parent night last fall felt they were more involved with their children’s education after using the system.

Seven out of 10 parents surveyed thought their children’s performance improved after they started using ParentLink, and three out of four respondents use the internet to access the system one to three times a week.

Embedded in the highly favorable parent comments, however, were a few complaints about online grades not matching report card data, underscoring the importance of keeping the information accurate and updated.

Privacy concerns

Some people worry that posting individual student data invites problems with privacy. Joel Gedalius—a 17-year-old North Woodmere, N.Y., student who’s designed web pages for a record label, a chocolate distributor, and the community newspaper, among others—thinks most schools aren’t yet equipped to post individual student data on the internet.

“Transmitting student grades, records, and other such information over an internet connection presents a very real security hazard,” says Gedalius, who has been the student webmaster for the Lawrence, N.Y., public school system since eighth grade. “There is no such thing as a truly secure flow of information, and it is imperative to disseminate student information in a private manner.”

Zaggle says his company’s accessed Pinnacle server acts as a firewall, so there’s no way that a student can change data in a teacher’s gradebook. Not that some students haven’t tried, he says.

Once, in a school that will go unnamed, administrators were puzzled when teachers’ grades were disappearing. They reasoned the only way this could happen was if someone could get into a teacher’s computer.

“Sure enough, we found this student in a classroom where a teacher had left a computer open. The student was making changes,” says Zaggle.

The story doesn’t end there. After the school punished the student and announced who he was, the student, who happened to be involved with sports, went to his coach and said, “Coach, do you mind if I use your computer?”

The coach agreed, until he remembered the student’s disciplinary history and pulled the plug. Zaggle says the school has corrected the problem.

In fact, Zaggle says his company’s 13-year experience in school administrative software means it has encountered—and fixed—a lot of problems.

To prevent tampering, NCS’s ParentCONNECTxp puts its online data in a read-only file, and parents are issued passwords and urged not to share them to protect the privacy of the information. The system links into NCS’s SASIxp student administration software, used by some 12,000 schools, and allows parents to go online and get information about their school, student assignments, attendance, discipline, and academic subjects, according to NCS spokeswoman Tamara Dutch.

The password is not given to the child, says Dutch, although some parents may use the system with their children.

But a competitor, Chancery Software, has the opposite philosophy. Maintaining that students should have access to the same information as parents, students will get passwords to Chancery’s K12Planet.

K12Planet links information in an electronic SIS to the internet and also links parents from various schools who may have a common interest, such as parents of students with attention deficit disorder (ADD), so they can share resources and tips.

Next month, Chancery plans to ship K12Planet software to every one of the 14,000 North American schools—including the entire state of Hawaii—using its MacSchool or WinSchool administrative software.

The new software will enable those schools to post administrative data, such as grades and attendance, on the internet through a secure server hosted by Exodus. The server will automatically upload the data from MacSchool or WinSchool as frequently as schools desire (typically once per day), meaning no extra effort is required to keep the site updated.

K12Planet will post individual student data to the internet from a mirror site, created from a copy of the original data, which should prevent crafty students from manipulating their grades.

“Even if someone got through the firewall, they are not going to be able to affect real data,” Wilson says.

Wilson cautions that schools can encounter problems when they start exporting and importing student information into web portals.

“What happens when the back-end company changes the file format? Let’s say, all of a sudden you have 12 new attendance codes. How does the system handle that?” he asks rhetorically.

Including all parents

What about those who don’t have access to the internet? Many school sites offer no options for these parents. Some others—like Chancery, Excelsior, PowerSchool, and Parlant—have programs that translate internet data into voice data, enabling parents with telephones to access some of the information they could not get on the internet. Cook, from nSchool.com, says his company is considering adding this voice application as well.

Chancery’s system also enables teachers who broadcast a message to produce “carbon fiber-based communication” or printed letters to parents without internet access, Wilson says.

Excelsior’s Zaggle says reaching parents without internet access might involve getting businesses to sponsor internet kiosks in banks, churches, and supermarkets in the future.

The good news for schools who have waited until now to get into the technology is they have the potential to post the most up-to-date sites, says Plano’s Hirsch. School districts that invested in technology in the mid-80s are forced to solve more problems, such as translating the software.

“The last in is almost the first out,” says Hirsch. Most software purchased now, he points out, is “already ready to access the internet.”

Bright Star Elementary
http://www.familyeducation.com/brightstar

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Lawrence Public Schools
http://www.lawrence.org

Plano Independent School District
http://www.pisd.edu

Utah’s 1999 Digital State law
http://www.le.state.ut.us/~1999/bills/sbillenr/SB0188.htm

Jean Armour Polly’s Net-Mom site
http://www.netmom.com

Sweetwater County School District #1 (Rock Springs, Wyo.)
http://www.sw1.k12.wy.us

Bellwood-Antis School District
http://tuckahoe.blwd.k12.pa.us

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Tips for forging stronger home-school connections

As more and more schools seek to forge closer connections with parents and families, the web can be a powerful communications ally. Time-stressed parents appreciate the 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability and convenience of the web. And, as the recent merger of Time Warner Cable and America Online shows, this “new” media is no longer the purview of the rich or the technologically elite.

Developing a family-friendly web site takes careful planning and special consideration, however. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

• Know your audience and design your site with their needs—and not the district administrative staff’s desires—in mind.

Conduct a series of focus groups, either face-to-face or online, and ask parents what they want and need from your web site. Put yourself in their shoes, and at their reading level, and ask yourself what you would want to know about your district or school if you were a parent.

Offer a special section for parents that includes information about your curriculum, latest test scores, homework assignments and project deadlines, menus (always a big deal in our house), daily classroom routines, and teacher contact information. Then consider adding parent tips, password-protected access to grades, online registration, links to day-care and after-school programs, and other services.

Keep in mind that today’s parents are obsessed with safety, order, and the basics, so make sure you include plenty of information about these topics. They also want to know that their son or daughter isn’t going to be a number or get lost in the crowd. So keep your site personal, warm, and caring.

• Make your site easy to navigate.

Nothing is more frustrating to parents then needing a site map in order to find anything on your web site. Use consistent web frames, buttons, and links—and simple language—to guide and direct parents from page to page and section to section. Make it easy for them to get back to your home page, or to find another section without having to back-track endlessly.

Make sure you design your web site flow with the needs and interests of parents and the community as the top priority. In other words, the Parent Connection section should take precedence over messages from the superintendent or endless streams of data about the district or its history. Make it easy to find individual schools, and provide complete contact information, addresses, maps, and directions.

• Keep it simple and to the point.

Take the time to translate long-winded documents and jargon into simple, clear, direct terms and language. You can have a master’s degree in engineering and not understand terms like thematic instruction, authentic assessment, instructional accountability, educational equity, and experiential learning.

When it comes to communication, less is more and simpler is better. Avoid dumping all of your print brochures into Adobe Acrobat and take the time to reformat the same content and images specifically for the web. Many parents don’t have sophisticated enough equipment and software to handle such memory-hogging programs, and no one has the time to wait for long downloads of pictures, graphics, and text.

• Share the workload, but save teachers time.

Creating appealing, family-friendly web sites worth visiting often takes weekly, if not daily, updating. This means you’re going to need to get many members of the school family involved in creating web pages and content.

The most effective web sites have multiple authors who use mutually agreed upon guidelines for content, artwork, fonts, and design elements. Many schools accomplish this by using templates or basic page frameworks that are created in advance by one designer or webmaster. Sharing the same software packages, and providing frequent, ongoing training for teachers, students, interns, media coordinators, and office personnel, is a must.

• Try a teacher pilot.

When you want to debut a new web service, such as posting student grades or test scores, sometimes a practice run with a technology-friendly teacher or two can help you move your idea from concept to action. The key is to find ways to work smarter, not harder, so teachers don’t have to enter key data such as grades, homework assignments, class projects, and other details more than once. If it’s easy, they’ll do it. If it’s hard, “fug ad aboud it.”

Partnering with a teacher or two to develop new strategies can help you avoid pitfalls you might not even know exist. Keep in mind that many educators are intimidated by technology, so providing one-on-one coaching and technical assistance, at least in the early stages, is going to be essential to help teachers feel confident and competent in eCommunications. The speed inherent in eCommunications has enormous customer service implications, so make sure you stress the importance of checking and responding to eMails on a daily basis.

• Keep it simple, software!

Staying within one family of software throughout your school and across the district for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, eMail, internet access, publications, and web design pays huge dividends when it comes to effective and efficient communications.

Develop a system for keeping all hardware, software and operating systems up-to-date and current with each other. This makes transferring files, sending eMails, attaching documents, converting to HTML, and posting web pages much easier by eliminating compatibility problems.

Inequities and variances from school to school, and from department to department, can also have a negative impact on morale. Every employee deserves equal access to the tools and technology required for maximum productivity. School systems need to do a better job of putting these key items on rotating schedules, similar to those developed for new textbooks and curriculum.

• Recruit a webmaster for every school.

Every school, department, and office should have one person who serves as the web author and gatekeeper. While technological literacy is always helpful, this person can be a “non-techy,” as long as he or she is knowledgeable about your area’s key people, activities, programs, services, and successes.

Guidelines for online publishing should be established in advance by a cross-functional team or committee, and should be enforced by the school or department webmaster. Having one person as the final online editor reduces communication clutter and ensures that inappropriate items or links are kept off the school or district web site.

• Restrict server access.

While you want to get as many people as possible involved in producing content and pages for your web site, you need to keep the keys to the system—access to your server and district passwords—in as few hands as possible.

In addition to the obvious security concerns, you want to protect the integrity of your site in terms of content, image, and design so you can communicate powerfully, simply, clearly, and effectively. If a committee takes charge of your overall design and web strategy, your site will end up looking like the proverbial camel instead of the sleek racehorse you envisioned. — Nora Carr

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New software puts the ‘work’ back into homework

Two Tennessee Tech engineering professors are using computer technology to combat an old problem that has relevance in K-12 as well as higher education—cheating on homework.

Craig Henderson and Richard Lowhorn say professors know it’s easy for students to get copies of homework solutions—many fraternities even keep such papers on file. So, they spent two years creating a software program that forces students to figure out homework answers on their own.

“The real emphasis is not on cheating,” Henderson said. “What we are really doing is just emphasizing practice for students—to just do problems, do problems, do problems until they are proficient at it.”

The program was designed to complement their course textbook, a mechanical engineering tome titled “Statics,” about the forces that keep objects still.

All 1,500 problems and graphics from the book went into the companion CD-ROM, “The Homework Laboratory.” But while the problems are identical to the book’s, the computer randomly varies elements in the equations.

The result: No two homework answers are the same.

The computer still can grade them as if they were. It also will allow students to try again with new variables, give helpful hints, provide ungraded practice problems and timed tests, and record the encrypted results in a full-semester tally for the professor.

The National Science Foundation saw enough promise in “The Homework Laboratory” to award a $135,000 grant to test the program in engineering classes at Tennessee Tech and the University of Texas-Austin, where the textbook’s authors, Marc Bedford and Wallace Fowler, teach.

“The main thing that was of interest to us is that it is aimed at increasing both the understanding and the retention of information,” said Eric Sheppard, an NSF program director in undergraduate education.

“It also is something that is flexible enough to have national impact. It is the type of product that could be used in other science or nonscience courses.”

The NSF-funded testing began last fall and is expected to continue this year. A component of the project is developing a comparable program for eighth- and ninth-graders.

Initial results have been encouraging.

“I plotted it for the first course and it was a pretty straight line,” Henderson said. “The people who used ‘The Homework Laboratory,’ that took the practice tests, that did well on the lab, got much higher grades in the classes.”

Students appear to like it, too.

“It is almost like another teacher to me,” said Adam Graves, a Tennessee Tech student.

“It makes me do homework,” classmate Simon Tremblay-LaRouche said.

Eric Svendsen, a senior editor at textbook publisher Prentice Hall, said lots of textbooks offer companion CDs, “but this is the first one that allows random generation of problem material. The concept is something that is applicable to a lot of other books.”

He said some bugs need to be worked out in loading the software, but “The Homework Laboratory” could be ready for market by summer.

Fowler, president-elect of the American Society of Engineering Education, said “The Homework Laboratory” is “the first set of software that has basically done something for students and for faculty members and for the academic institution itself, all in one fell swoop.”

Students can get endless practice on varied problems. They can get immediate help without waiting to see their professor. And professors, or their paid graders, don’t have all that homework to check, he said.

“This concept is so good that I expect 10 years from now you will see a lot of things like this,” Fowler said.

Tennessee Tech University
http://www.tntech.edu

National Science Foundation
http://www.nsf.gov

University of Texas at Austin
http://www.utexas.edu

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Principals, police use internet to track troubled teens

In the town of Normal, Ill., school administrators and local law enforcement officials are taking steps to ensure that events here live up to the community’s name.

To prevent the kind of violence that has occurred recently in places such as Littleton, Colo., and Springfield, Ore., local officials are teaming up to form a computer network that will keep track of teen-agers who might commit crimes in or out of school.

The network will link authorized users from the Bloomington and Normal police departments, McLean County state’s attorney’s office, the juvenile division of the Illinois Department of County Court Services, the local office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the junior highs and high schools in District 87 and McLean County Unit 5 school districts.

The idea behind the “safe school shared information system” is to give officials who have dealings with a particular teen a single formalized process to share information so they can see if there is a trend of unsafe or criminal behavior, said Mindy Frazier, information services manager for the town of Normal.

For example, if a police officer responds to a fight among teens over the weekend, principals would know to stay alert for any spillover into the school Monday morning. Some of that type of sharing occurs now, but on a limited basis, Frazier said.

Conversely, when schools report alleged or suspected criminal behavior to police, information from those incidents would be included in the network as well.

Once potential problems are identified, school officials hope to intervene before any outside hostilities manifest themselves on school grounds. Students who have been in trouble outside of school will be called into direct conferences with administrators to talk about problems, or they will be asked to participate in parent-teacher meetings, counseling, or peer intervention.

The idea for the network came out of a brainstorming session at the regional advisory council meeting of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-Southeast (NLECTC-SE). The assembly brought together law enforcement officials and community leaders looking for ways to prevent school violence by nipping instances of violent behavior in the bud.

“With this program, we hope to share information and give schools a heads up to young people who might be predisposed to violence,” said Assistant Chief Gary Speers of the Normal Police Department.

The money for the pilot program was obtained through a grant from NLECTC-SE and the National Institute of Justice. An estimated $36,000 in start-up equipment was needed, and the remaining funds will be used to provide each location with the expertise, equipment, and support needed to tie the system together, Speers said. School officials do not expect upkeep for the program to be very expensive.

The project will create a “virtual private network” that uses encryption and other security mechanisms to ensure that only authorized users can access the network and that the data cannot be intercepted. Members of the network will receive software that allows them to hook into the network’s web server, currently being housed at the Normal City Hall.

Frazier said there are very specific guidelines about what kinds of information can be shared. Private student records cannot be shared without a court order, for example.

McLean County State’s Attorney Charles Reynard said he was “thrilled” to have the system available. In addition to sharing and receiving information via the network, his office will provide the legal research to make sure no information added to the network breaks confidentiality or privacy laws.

Each member of the network will designate one or two individuals to check it regularly for youngsters who have committed an act of violence and alert other members. Normal Community West High School Principal Jerry Crabtree said the two educational deans at his school will be the only employees with access to the highly sensitive information.

“The one feature I really like is the confidentiality aspect,” Crabtree noted. “Only one or two people will have access to the software—and it’s all protected through passwords.”

Those involved in the pilot project expect some degree of resistance from civil liberties groups regarding the issue of privacy infringement, but note that measures have been taken to ensure the network’s constitutionality. “We put together a list of the types of items we’d like to share [within the network] and ran them past the state’s attorney, who had no problem with the list we presented,” Speers said.

Though there has been a slight decrease in the occurrence of teen violence over the past year, school officials have been busier than ever dealing with a huge increase in threats of violence, Speers said. Added Crabtree, “We’re trying to head off potential problems. The concept just makes sense. This way, we can be proactive rather than reactive.”

McLean County Unit District 5
http://www.unit5.org

National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-Southeast
http://www.nlectc.org/nlectcse

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