A dynamic technology team at Mansfield Independent School District near Fort Worth, Texas, has rallied students, teachers, and the entire community around its impressive technology initiatives. Spearheaded by the leadership of Technology Director Raymond Jaksa and Superintendent Vernon Newsom, the team’s keys to success are its community partnerships and its empowerment of teachers at the building level.

Jaksa, who helped raise $1.6 million for technology initiatives in his district last year alone, expressed his excitement about the technological boom that Mansfield has experienced in the last three years: “When I first came to Mansfield, they had Apple IIes [and PCs] running Windows 3.1. That was three years ago, and they had no network or infrastructure at all.

“On December 10, 1998, we turned on the network in every class. Our classrooms have four drops per class, minimum, with digital modems and frame-relay T1 connections to all schools. All our secondary schools are getting distance-learning centers for more-advanced training in subjects like foreign language and algebra.

“Our superintendent is driving all this change. He really wants each campus to be as autonomous as possible, but he pushes for them to follow the overall district technology plan, too.”

What distinguishes Mansfield ISD is the district’s commitment to forming a partnership with the community to establish programs that benefit both students and nonstudents in the area.

By combining the resources of its media and information centers with those of the Mansfield Public Library, for example, the district has formed a partnership called the Mansfield Community Library Consortium. The consortium will enable both parties to share their resources over a single computer network, thereby expanding the choices available to students and citizens alike.

“We try and stay true to our motto, ‘Using technology to create an integrated community of lifelong learners.’ We really want to emphasize the ‘unity’ part,” said Jaksa.

In its strategic plan, the Mansfield Community Library Consortium has identified three primary points of need:

• School media centers are not open to the public at all or to students in the evenings or on weekends.

• The public library does not have the proper resources to meet students’ needs.

• These two factors combined demonstrate inadequate library access for the area’s schools.

“Through our technology department’s expertise, we can partner with the city and provide an environment where we have almost seamless access to information, both in and out of school,” Newsom explained.

The consortium’s primary goals are to improve community education and improve access to technology and the internet through an interlibrary loan and resource-sharing program. The consortium plans to use Athena Automated System to maintain an integrated, mainly PC-based client/server system capable of accessing all cooperating databases.

“There is one community library participating, and we hope to have four major campuses involved as well. If we meet our goals for this project, we expect to have them all up and running in three years,” Newsom said.

Decentralized approach

Mansfield, a widespread district spanning 94 miles, has taken a very decentralized approach to setting its schools up with technology.

“In Texas, we get $30 per student for technology each year. We give $25 of that to each campus, so that schools can choose what they want to emphasize. Each campus has a technology committee that helps make those decisions,” Jaksa said.

“We also institute a technologist, called the ‘lead teacher,’ at each school,” he said, noting that these teachers often are responsible for initiating technology projects at their schools. Added Newsom: “We have to provide some flexibility within campus planning that allows all our schools to meet their goals as well.”

The technology committees get to make choices and set priorities, and how they spend their money is based on the campus improvement and technology plans, as well as district recommendations, said Jaksa.

Local educators appreciate the level of autonomy given to each school for technology spending.

“Needs for campuses vary with the kids they have, the building they’re in, and so on,” said Casey Lee, one of the district’s lead technology teachers. “We want to allow input from every teacher. Teaching people to be computer literate in a way they can actually use is a fairly new idea. I definitely like all the input I’m allowed. My lab is exactly the way I planned it.”

Lee’s lab is actually one of the most advanced computer education centers in Texas. “We have a partnership with National Semiconductor and Tarrant City College,” Newsom explained. “In their junior and senior years, our students can take an actual semiconductor manufacturing class and gain skills for very lucrative employment.”

This advanced course, called SMT, allows students to learn how to manufacture very high-tech machinery—and receive college credit for their efforts.

Along with the SMT course, Mansfield offers four electronics courses. The $250,000 lab Lee runs also offers students a course called Students for Recycling Used Technology, or STRUT. “Our kids actually rehab computers right in the lab, and those computers go back into the district,” said Lee.

“Most engineers that walk through our lab would love to take our equipment home,” she added. “Our kids aren’t just learning theory. They have to apply this in a hands-on manner.”

Mansfield Independent School District
http://www.mansfieldisd.org