A new Hawaii-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping close the “digital gap” in our nation’s schools has selected 12 school districts as recipients of its first Technology in Education Leadership Awards for their exemplary use of technology in K-12 education.

To identify the nation’s most technologically advanced school districts, the Ohana Foundation drew upon research conducted at Center for Information and Communication Sciences at Indiana’s Ball State University over a five-year period. Representatives from state departments of education and K-12 districts were asked to name the school districts they regard as leaders in the application of technology in their state.

According to Alan Pollock, director of marketing for the Ohana Foundation, a panel of judges narrowed the field to 12 finalists. Each received an all-expenses-paid trip to the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology + Learning conference held Oct. 25-28 in Denver.

Criteria for selection were as follows:

• The district made efforts to do more than just install computers. A broader sense of educational technology was necessary, including the integrated use of various video, audio, digital, satellite, and distance learning technologies in a networked environment.

• The district demonstrated special leadership efforts in trying new technologies or unusual experiences for teachers or students.

• The district made efforts to assure that classroom and curriculum integration took place, not just technology for its own sake.

• The district made efforts to provide training for teachers as well as exposure for students.

“Our goal was to recognize a group that is often not recognized. School technology can often be a thankless job,” Pollock said. He added that the Ohana Foundation plans to continue its awards program in future years.

This year’s 12 Technology in Education Leadership Awards finalists are:

Opelika City Schools (Alabama)

Opelika City Schools have implemented an intense technological plan that began in 1990 and has placed 3,000 computers in nine schools with a total district enrollment of 4,500 students. Each school has its own local area network (LAN) connected to a wide area network (WAN), and each school also features a video network system.

There are five computers in each elementary classroom and a computer in every middle and high school class, with 13 labs for student use. The district also circulates 35 laptops among students and teachers. Because computers are so pervasive, many in the district prefer to use eMail communication.

“The effects [of technology in the classroom] are immeasurable,” explained one district official. “It gives unnoticed kids a chance to shine and is a tremendous outreach tool.”

Anchorage School District (Alaska)

Among other improvements, teachers in the district are receiving technology education thanks to a donation by British Petroleum of 250 computers and $20,000 to pay teachers for training. To assist with the training, the district shows a series of teacher-produced programs discussing technology over its cable television network.

Anchorage schools also have created school technology assistance teams (STATs) to work with teachers and help them meet their technology goals. The district has a 5-to-1 ratio of students to computers, and all classrooms have internet access and are connected directly to the library’s card catalog. All 2,500 computers are part of a LAN.

http://www.asd.k12.ak.us

Malvern Special School District (Arkansas)

Malvern has a distance learning program established with local universities and technical schools, as well as three other high schools. The PRISM (People, Resources, and Imagination Studio at Malvern) is a multimedia lab studio with eight full-time teachers. Students in this program are required to support all projects through an electronic medium, and the studio is equipped with video editing capabilities.

The district’s PRISM-EAST (Earth and Space Technology) project allows students to examine the universe and put research projects into electronic format.

http://malvern.dsc.k12.ar.us

Little Falls Community Schools (Minnesota)

Through a bond from the state of Minnesota, the Little Falls School District has hired “integration people” to help with technology development and implementation. The integration people are individuals dedicated to implementing technology, training both teachers and students, and maintaining the district network.

Little Falls boasts 1,500 computers in five buildings, with a LAN in each building and a district-wide network. A network file server in the central building contains software applications, encyclopedias, and magazine databases.

The district also features a brand-new digital phone system, a two-way interactive video system, and every classroom is wired for internet access.

http://www.lfalls.k12.mn.us

Nixa R-II Schools (Missouri)

All of Nixa’s schools are networked on a fiber optic cable run through a core switch, and each building has a file server so staff can communicate with one another at all times via eMail. Nixa schools have several A+ learning labs funded through their A+ Schools program, as well as computers in most classrooms and mini-labs in the three elementary schools.

Nixa also participates in the eMints teacher training program through which teachers receive additional professional development and training by participating in a technology-immersion classroom, where the same teachers follow one class from third to fourth grade.

http://www.nixa.k12.mo.us

Anaconda School District (Montana)

With only one high school, one middle school, and one elementary, this small district has made great strides with technology.

The high school and middle school are fiber-connected with videoconferencing ability. Each and every teacher has a networked computer for grading and administration. The elementary school has a wireless connection with the high school, allowing them to mentor and work together.

The elementary and middle schools both have six to seven computers per class, and the high school features AutoCAD, Hyperstudio, electronic government research tools, and history, atlas, and encyclopedia programs.

http://hosts2.intch.com/www.anacondamt.org/educate .htm

Red Hook Central School District (New York)

The Red Hook Technology Project, commonly referred to as Tech 2000, is a public and private partnership providing voice, video, data, and distance learning opportunities to all district classrooms.

Two PBX telephone switches provide voice mail and call accounting. Every classroom in the district is equipped with a large video monitor connected to a control room, making use of videotapes, cable TV, satellite, CD-ROM, and DVD.

The district is networked over a WAN that uses a T1 connection, and educators have access to “virtual computer classrooms” comprised of laptops that are moved around on carts for student use.

http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/repcrd399/D_131701.html

Wilson County Schools (North Carolina)

In Wilson County, technology is viewed as a way to engage all the district’s children. All classes have at least two computers and a printer, and each campus boasts a school-wide LAN and a high-tech lab.

But the real innovations in Wilson County are the seven teacher-created volumes of integrated lesson plans, complete with assistance and stipends from the technology department. These technology-based lesson plans are based around the standard course of study and allow teachers to become acquainted with technology as they teach. Training is a major focus point for the district.

http://schools.eastnet.ecu.edu/wilson

Central Columbia School District (Pennsylvania)

In addition to a thoroughly modern and integrated classroom experience, Central Columbia schools encourage participation with technology. As part of the school experience for students, daily announcements featuring school information are produced in both the elementary and middle schools. Classroom teachers are trained in television production, and they provide instructional support to help students wire, direct, and provide talent for these broadcasts.

The district introduces students to computers in first grade and teaches keyboarding in fifth. Ninth-graders are required to complete coursework in computer technology, and eleventh-graders must use technology to complete a project of their choice in one area of study.

http://www.centralcolumbia.k12.pa.us

Beaufort County School District (South Carolina)

Beaufort County became a pioneer in the “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” project in 1996 by making laptops available to all interested middle school students, regardless of economic status. The district’s Schoolbook Foundation helps subsidize families who want their kids to have laptops, and as a result, more than half of the county’s disadvantaged students have been provided with laptops for instructional use.

With the installation of a $10 million technology initiative, the district has wired every school and allowed every classroom in each school to share resources. An independent study indicated measurable improvements in students’ perception and grades since the program’s inception.

http://www.beaufort.k12.sc.us

Henry County Public Schools (Virginia)

Henry County won the Laureate Smithsonian Award in 1999 for its “universal laptop access” program. Apple Computer nominated the district for this award.

The schools in Henry County are totally networked via a frame relay backbone to a central office, and proxy servers are in place at all four high schools. The district also offers two learning packages at the high schools, and a laptop initiative is in place to provide portable computers for grades four, five, eight, and nine.

http://henry1.henry.k12.va.us/public

Shoreline Public Schools (Washington)

Shoreline Public Schools, located outside Seattle, has exemplary multimedia and computer programs committed to providing equal access to technology to all students. These programs have developed students’ problem-solving skills with the help of cutting-edge technology. Over the last 10 years, the district has spent more than $20 million on technology for learning.

Shoreline operates a voice, data, and video network to its classrooms and makes teaching technology a priority. Shoreline takes a proactive attitude toward showing students the positive aspect of computers and multimedia technology.

http://www.shoreline.wednet.edu