“World Wise Schools” connects students with volunteers around the world

The Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools initiative is an innovative educational program that seeks to engage learners in an inquiry about the world, themselves, and others. Goals include broadening perspectives, promoting cultural awareness, appreciating global connections, and encouraging service. Since its inception in 1989 by the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, World Wise Schools has helped more than a million United States students communicate directly with Peace Corps volunteers all over the world. Initially set up as a correspondence “match” program between volunteers and U.S. classes, World Wise Schools has expanded its scope over the past 10 years by providing a broad range of resources for educators–including award-winning videos, teacher guides, classroom speakers, a newsletter, and online resources. Educators can use these materials to teach subjects as varied as language arts, environmental education, and international economics. This useful addition to the Peace Corps site connects educators and students with a volunteer, finds lesson plans relating to different countries, shows video clips (requiring RealPlayer) of Peace Corps educational videos, and lets kids read folk tales recorded by Peace Corps volunteers. It’s an inspiring way to encourage public service and global awareness among students. http://www.peacecorps.gov/wws


“Cycles of the Earth and Atmosphere” should enhance the learning climate

This web site, created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in collaboration with teachers, contains teacher-crafted classroom activities designed to enhance middle schoolers’ skills in science and math. “Cycles of the Earth and Atmosphere” builds the excitement of scientific discovery into the curriculum, along with the basic concepts middle school students are expected to master. Topics include climate, the greenhouse effect, global climate change, the ozone, and the atmosphere as a whole. Each section provides background materials and several classroom activities that let students become hands-on participants in the scientific discovery process. One animation on the site demonstrates how manufactured chemical compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the earth’s protective ozone shield: CFC molecules rise into the stratosphere, where ultraviolet radiation breaks them apart, releasing chlorine, which then attacks and destroys an ozone molecule by knocking off one of its oxygen atoms. The site’s content grew out of a series of summer workshops, in which 40 teachers worked with more than 60 scientists from NCAR and its parent organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “The site is designed to be a work horse for teachers,” says project director Sandra Henderson. According to Henderson, everything on the site is aligned with the national standards for science and math education, which form the framework upon which most state and district standards are built. The site is a great resource for earth science teachers who want to use the web to bring unique learning opportunities into their classrooms. http://www.ucar.edu/learn


“Paper Lake Times” gives students the scoop on journalism

This site is a great resource for budding journalists who want to get an idea of what news reporting is really like. The Paper Lake Times web site gives students a hands-on journalism experience, with answers to important questions for reporters, such as: What makes something newsworthy? What does “freedom of speech” mean? Why do reporters need to be objective, accurate, and fair? After students learn about issues that are important to understanding the basics of journalism, they can take a practice test and move on to learning the skills they need to start writing for the news media. The site provides lessons on how to interview subjects, how to write good lead paragraphs, how to use quotes correctly, and what exactly the “inverted pyramid” in news writing is. Once students gain an understanding of the basic components of news writing, they are encouraged to try their hand at writing a “real” news story for the Paper Lake Times. Young reporters first must read an assignment, then follow the links at the bottom of the page to “interview” residents of fictitious Paper Lake. One of the five assignments challenges students to find out what people are saying about last week’s Board of Education meeting, where school board members mentioned they might consider putting an addition on to Paper Lake Elementary. The young journalists then can write a 200- to 300-word story using the skills they gained and turn it in to the web site. This site is a fun resource with real-life applications. http://soe.kean.edu/~scarty


Add some summer sizzle to your school web sites

Even though school’s almost out, you still need to keep your web site sizzling. Web surfers are notoriously fickle. If you wait until the dog days of August to update your home page, you’ll just find that your web site has, well, gone to the dogs.

To keep your site fresh all summer long, here are a few tips:

  • Show your stakeholders that learning is a year-round proposition by enlisting a troop of parent and student volunteers and arming them with inexpensive digital cameras. Their mission is to take photos of students’ and teachers’ summer activities, from band camps, sports clinics, and math academies to curriculum committees, building renovations, and faculty workshops. Then post the photos on the web, with a brief cutline or headline.

  • Find out if any student, staff, or faculty groups are traveling abroad or participating in school-sponsored exchange programs. Ask one member of each group to act as your correspondent, and have them email photos and short stories to you on a regular basis. The goal is to post something new on your home page every week.

  • Ask your guidance department to draft a simple “how to” section that walks parents through the registration process, from signing up at a new school to building a course schedule. Few things infuriate parents more than moving to a new city with kids in tow, only to find out that the schools have shut down for the summer.

  • On a related customer service note, make sure you have a knowledgeable person answering the phones and following through on information requests. Make sure you check your email frequently, especially those that come through web-based feedback mechanisms. If your staff isn’t going to be available during the summer, take their addresses off the web, post a web note, or arrange for an automatic email response.

  • Move your school or district calendar from the back recesses of your site to the home page. In addition to summer activities, be sure to include registration deadlines, teacher and new staff orientations, beginner’s days or kindergarten round-ups, bell schedules, opening of schools, and other key data.

  • Link to parent-friendly web sites that include information about summer and vacation activities that will keep kids learning from June through August. Public libraries and local and national cultural attractions–such as science and art museums, history centers, and zoos–typically have a wealth of web-based learning tools and fun activities. Parents will also appreciate tips and guidance regarding summer academic programs and tutors.
During the summer, many parents will have questions about transportation, food service menus, special education, tutoring, academics (by grade level), before- and after-school care, co-curricular activities, athletics, and athletic eligibility guidelines. You may want to package everything in a “new to school” section with a link from your home page.

Newcomers and new home owners will want to know which schools serve their neighborhood or address and who to call if they want a change in assignment. By anticipating parent questions, making it easy to find this information, and then advertising its availability on the web to parents, realtors, and others, you’ll market your schools all summer long.

Summer’s a great time to review your web site from top to bottom to see if every page, link, and section still has meaning and relevance for your key audiences. Don’t be afraid to delete or revamp sections that no one seems to visit; careful pruning during the summer months may result in a more plentiful harvest of web surfers this fall. Use NetMechanic, Web Site Garage, or some other source for a free web check-up.

If you need more qualified web help, offer free or low-cost summer training sessions for students, parents, and teachers. You can also partner with area community colleges and technical schools. As stated previously in this column, there’s a plethora of free resources on the web for content, graphics, logos, buttons, and images, as well as lots of practical “how-to” information (see the eSchool News archives). While you need to maintain fairly tight control on who has passwords and can post information, when it comes to developing content, the more hands the better.

Finally, if your school web master doesn’t have a 12-month contract or doesn’t receive any additional compensation for his or her work, you may want to revisit that policy. A well-maintained web site can make or break your public image, yet too many schools still expect web masters to work for free, on their own time.

This penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to web management may have worked when the average web site contained 50 pages and attracted few visitors. With quality expectations increasing exponentially and the average school web site now exceeding 500 pages, the stakes are too high to leave this critical business function to volunteers.


Don’t write unacceptable acceptable-use policies

By now, you should know that every school district allowing the use of computers and the internet by students, faculty, and staff needs an acceptable-use policy (AUP) to establish the ground rules–and, in fact, most schools already have an AUP. In most cases, the AUP must be read and signed by each user and, if the user is a minor, the student’s parent or guardian also must give permission.

While some schools have a special form, in many cases parental consent is accomplished by having the responsible adult sign (or countersign) the same AUP as the student. Either method is perfectly fine. But how can you tell whether your AUP is gonna do the job?

I have read more than a hundred AUPs, many of which arrive via eMail from a variety of sources. AUPs are the bailiwick of everyone from full-time school district IT directors to faculty members who have been dubbed “internet coordinator” on a part-time or ad hoc basis by principals who found out they knew that a WAN was more than a weak smile. Many of these AUPs are pretty good, but few are really well-written–and more than a few are really meaningless collections of vague language that mention computers and the internet.

The worst offenders fail to fulfill the three main reasons for having an AUP in the first place. The first, and core, purpose of an AUP is to establish a clear set of rules for using school computers to access the internet. This means you should make some definite choices, such as whether you will allow users to access chat rooms or subscribe to so-called “Usenet” newsgroups.

The second (and some school lawyers believe the most crucial) reason for an AUP is to provide notice. The AUP must inform users about the rules, limits, and consequences for misuse. More importantly, it must give parents sufficient information so that the permission they give for their minor children is truly “informed” consent.

Finally, the AUP must be a clearly written mechanism for users (and students’ parents) to acknowledge that they have gotten notice of the rules and agree to use–or consent to allow their children to use–the internet in the manner allowed by these rules. If your AUP does not do a good job in meeting all three fundamentals, it’s time to sharpen the pencils and rework it.

If you question whether your AUP is up to the task, ask yourself whether it really provides an unsophisticated parent who has never sat down in front of a computer and browsed the “wild, wide web” any idea of what his child may be exposed to as part of the internet educational experience.

One of the worst examples to grace my in-box recently came from a Michigan school system that shall remain nameless, but not shameless. The AUP is so vague that parents could not possibly rely on it to obtain any real idea of what they are being asked to consent to. It says, “Members having accounts on the network should be advised that they might locate material that could be considered offensive or controversial. Parents of minors should be aware of the existence of such materials and monitor home usage of the system.” Yabbadayabbada … that’s all, folks.

The AUP then asks parents to acknowledge that “as the parent or guardian of this student, I have read the Electronic Access and Use for Educational Purposes Policy. [The school district] has taken precautions to prohibit access to inappropriate materials. However, I also recognize it is impossible for [the school district] to restrict access to all inappropriate materials, and I will not hold them responsible for materials acquired on the network.”

Then, based on this underwhelming disclosure, parents are asked to sign the following release: “In consideration for the privilege of using the system … I hereby release [the school district] and its operators and sponsors and its faculty and staff and all organizations, groups and institutions with which [the school district] is affiliated for any and all claims of any nature arising from my use, my child’s use or inability to use, the network.”

Of course, this release language is pretty much legally worthless, because it is based on inadequate, vague notice. It’s sort of like asking a parent to sign a permission slip for a field trip to an undisclosed location by whatever means the school decides to transport them. In many cases, schools think they must use vague, merely suggestive language in their AUPs, because otherwise parents will withhold permission.

School officials who adopt this broad-brush approach usually agree that an AUP is an important tool. They just don’t recognize the need to face the notice issues involved in creating an AUP that is more than just words on paper. If your AUP can’t pass the vagueness test, check back in this space over the summer for a few tips on how to give it a tune-up.


Dell recalls more notebook batteries due to fire hazard

Dell Computer Corp. is recalling about 284,000 batteries used in notebook computers sold to schools and other customers because they can overheat and catch fire.

Dell and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the company had heard one report of a battery that overcharged and caught fire, resulting in minor property damage.

The recall, announced May 3, covers batteries used in Inspiron 5000 and 5000e notebooks shipped to consumers from January 7, 2000, to March 21 of this year. Dell and its service providers also sold the batteries separately during the same time for $100 to $130.

Dell spokesman Tom Kehoe said the recall would not have a material financial impact on the company.

Kehoe said the batteries were made by Panasonic, though a Pansonic spokesman disputed that characterization.

Kurt Praschak said the batteries were made by Matsushita Battery Industrial Co. Ltd. and do not carry the Panasonic name. Panasonic is a brand name of the parent company, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Dell said consumers should remove the batteries from their notebooks and call the company. The recall doesn’t affect the computers themselves, which sold for $2,100 to $3,100.

The faulty batteries have a colored sticker with an identification number containing the either “99” or a series of numbers “00 51” or less and the letter P in the first line, Dell said.

This was the third notebook-related problem in the past year for Dell. The company last August warned as many as 400,000 customers that their machines may have contained defective memory chips.

In October, Dell recalled about 27,000 batteries used in notebook computers because of a similar fire hazard. That recall mostly affected Latitude and Inspiron 3700 and 3800 models sold last year.

Dell Battery Recall Program


Patricia Tillotson molds Red Clay’s technology program into a success

During the past two years, the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, Del., has developed a computer network the size of that in many Fortune 500 companies.

With more than 6,000 computers, 45 servers, 250 laptops, 2,000 printers, and 1,000 large-screen monitors distributed across 27 school buildings and approximately 16,000 students, the task initially was overwhelming.

But by managing the process in “smart” ways, explained Technology Director Patricia Tillotson, Red Clay completed the implementation early and $1.5 million under budget, without compromising quality. District technology employees say much of that success is attributable to some innovative and enthusiastic leadership by Tillotson.

Tillotson earned her Ph.D. in environmental physics and worked for Dow Chemical Co., among other employers, until she decided she “wanted to do something satisfying with [her] life.”

“I had a middle-aged crisis,” laughed Tillotson.

With years of technology experience in the business sector, Tillotson brought “a fresh viewpoint” to Red Clay’s technology services, said Judi Coffield, the district’s instructional technologist.

“There’s a sense of excitement now. She’s a cheerleader for technology, and she always puts the students and learning first,” said Coffield.

Tillotson’s first order of business involved working with KPMG consultants to develop a three-year district technology plan.

According to Coffield, “Some of the goals and objectives were to enhance instructional tools, use technology to improve student learning, provide flexibility in creative teaching methods, enhance achievement, enhance media centers and computer labs, ensure that all classrooms have four computers (one being a teacher media center), increase administrative efficiency, improve communications with parents, and provide technical skills required in today’s business world.”

Every one of those goals has been addressed since Tillotson took over in 1998, district officials say.

According to Tillotson, when she first arrived at Red Clay there was a “rudimentary” technology plan, but the district had just passed a $10.7 million bond issue for technology.

“The first thing I did was get together more than 100 people to do focus groups–coordinated through KPMG–and put together a really comprehensive plan,” she said. Tillotson asked teachers, students, and administrators to participate in the focus groups, and they discussed what they wanted to do with technology.

“That plan basically became my to-do list,” said Tillotson. Red Clay actually completed the three-year technology plan in two years, furnishing schools with brand-new computer labs and classrooms with four computers and a large-screen TV monitor.

The district also purchased a cache of laptop computers for each school, so teachers could check them out and engage in staff training at home.

“We put in the hardware, but we were doing the training in parallel,” said Tillotson. Under the new plan, teachers get instruction on using the software, as well as integrating technology into the curriculum.

Tillotson believes strongly in the “train the trainer”model, incorporating instructional technology teams at each building. These teams put together instructional plans for their buildings, based on past assessment scores.

The same teams also are charged with identifying software to help meet the specific needs of the kids in their schools.

“I really believe, rather than the district telling the schools what they need, the schools ought to have input,” said Tillotson. “So Judi Coffield, the instructional technologist, pulled together a ‘district-recommended’ software list.”

Building-level officials now can choose directly from that list, or they can show district officials why a new program should be added to the list.

“We also put into place a whole software evaluation procedure–we wanted to guarantee an alignment between the software and the outcome,” said Tillotson. “We really wanted to structure the process to ensure curricular alignment.”

Many districts don’t think about creating hardware standards, she said. But standardized hardware can be critical to maintaining total cost of ownership. Red Clay mass-purchased all its new hardware from Dell, selecting only three different models district-wide.

Tillotson is eager to spread the word about Red Clay’s successes and encourage other district to take similar measures to bring their technology programs up to snuff, focusing on student-centered planning, implementation, and evaluation.

She put together a list of recommendations for others who would like to see a similar metamorphosis unfold in their own districts. Her “Five Critical Success Factors for School Technology” are:

  1. Involve everyone in the planning process. Have all stakeholders– students, teachers, administrators, board members, and parents–help develop a clear, multi-year technology plan. Stakeholder vision from the trenches is better than your vision as an administrator or technology director.

  2. Standardize hardware. Select a single vendor for computer purchases, and use the fewest number of vendors possible for purchasing peripherals, to reduce your total support and maintenance costs over the long-term. Do research to select the best and most reliable products.

  3. Develop a customer service attitude. Treat all users with respect, as they deserve excellent service and support. It’s your responsibility to ensure their happiness, and service should be a No. 1 priority. Predict user needs and satisfy them before users know what their needs are. Use remote access technology to fix computer problems as soon as possible.

  4. Teach technology within the context of best instructional practices. Show teachers not only how to point and click through educational software, but also how to manage their classrooms so that technology instruction can occur within the context of existing lesson plans.

  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communicate 10 times more than you think you need to, and be seen in the school buildings as often as possible. This helps everyone understand that technology is important at all levels of the organization.

Bonus success factor: Stay focused. You will be inundated with technology requests by all personnel in your district. Maintain a direct alignment between your activities and your technology plan. Don’t allow others to sway you from the documented path outlined in No. 1 above.

These strategies have certainly proven themselves at Red Clay, according to technology personnel.

“Patty is great,” said Ted Ammann, network services administrator. “She has a great ability to look at the return on investment that we get from our technology. And the new initiatives all support instruction, rather than technology just for technology’s sake.”

Red Clay Consolidated School District


New ‘smart cards’ have gotten even smarter

A New York school district is piloting the latest generation of “smart card” technology to document a number of student and staff member activities, including internet access, attendance, permitting entry into the school, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and signing out books.

The technology “incorporates many things into one tool,” said Roberta A. Gerold, superintendent of Miller Place School District. “We can collapse so many tasks into one system.”

District officials hope the smart-card system, developed by the ScholarChip Co., will help them keep track of where students are and what they are doing, easing the workload of staff members so they can focus on teaching.

In May, the district issued a ScholarChip card—a credit card-like device with an embedded computer chip—to every person, including teachers, custodians, administrative staff, cafeteria helpers, bus drivers, the superintendent, and nearly 3,000 students. Each ScholarChip card shows the owner’s photo, name, school, district, an identification number, a bar code, and a gold-colored computer chip.

“We are going to use them initially to allow access to the internet,” Gerold said.

The district has installed a smart-card reader at each computer. Now, when students or staff members use a computer, they must insert their card into the reader and type in their personal identification number (PIN).

“It’s kind of like an ATM card—you input the card, and then you input your PIN,” Gerold said. With the ScholarChip card, the district will know who is using a computer and when.

While on the internet, a user can only access sites that have been permitted by the school and “set” on each person’s account. ScholarChip has eight different categories consisting of millions of blocked IP addresses that are updated every day, and schools can choose which categories to block. ScholarChip has contracted with another company to review the sites personally. Teachers can control their students’ access to certain web sites or the internet simply by modifying the settings in the students’ accounts.

Gerold was so impressed with the internet filtering feature of ScholarChip’s smart card that she said the district would have volunteered for the pilot if the card only controlled internet access.

“The smart card also disguises a student’s identity on the internet,” Gerold said. She explained that the card creates a “mock identity” for each student, so web sites can’t track a student’s identity. Students “come back as clean as they went out,” she said.

As students go out on the internet, they are given a one-time identity consisting of a long string of digits, explained Maged Atiya, chief technical officer for the ScholarChip Co.

“We essentially prevent tracking by predators, or marketers,” Atiya said. “And the school, of course, gets detailed reports of how time much time was spent [online] and what was accessed.”

The ScholarChip card also acts like a thin-client system, meaning a user’s work is saved on a central server and can be accessed by inserting a card and PIN. The card also remembers internet bookmarks and eMail addresses, so every person’s internet experience is more personalized.

“Eventually, we will use it like a debit card for our cafeteria,” Gerold said. Students who are on the free and reduced-price lunch program no longer will be singled out, she said, because all students will pay for cafeteria food using their ScholarChip cards.

“High-school kids tend to be embarrassed by free and reduced-price lunch programs, so they don’t sign-up for them,” Gerold said. The system also will save time on end-of-year reports that require a tally of the number of free and reduced-priced lunches served, she said.

Parents will be able to add money to their child’s account for food, and they’ll have different options for customizing how this money is spent. For example, if a parent doesn’t want her child to have a lot of sugar, she could set up the account so it cannot be used in the school’s vending machines.

Gerold said the district also plans to monitor attendance using the cards on a period-by-period basis. Students would swipe their cards each time they entered a classroom. Substitute teachers and visitors would be issued temporary cards.

After school, students could use their cards to enter the building, letting school officials know exactly who is entering and leaving and when. “Of course, kids could bring other kids with them, so it’s not a strong security piece, but it’s stronger than what we have right now,” Gerold said.

The ScholarChip cards will be used in the library as well, she said. And, bus drivers will scan the students’ cards before they get on and off the bus. A swipe of a card could notify a driver instantly that a student was suspended from school and denied transportation privileges.

In addition, the district hopes to use the card to help students develop the habit of voting by getting the students to vote regularly on key issues, such as the school mascot and what’s for lunch.

As an incentive for keeping track of their ScholarChip cards, students are charged a fee for losing them. If a student forgets his card, he’s issued a temporary card that is only activated for that day.

For privacy advocates concerned about the amount of information district officials could collect about students, Atiya said, “It’s well within their privilege.

“I’m not concerned with the fact that the school knows where a student is, that’s what they’re supposed to know,” Atiya said.

Los Angeles County Office of Education

Aqcess Technologies


Laptops to transform learning for 23,000 Virginia students

In what may be the largest deployment yet of laptop computers in schools, thousands of Henrico County, Va., students will have one more book to tote around next year: an Apple iBook portable computer.

As part of a four-year, $18.5 million technology initiative, Henrico school officials are leasing 23,000 laptop computers from Apple Computer for all middle and high school students and teachers.

“This is mammoth–the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever,” said Apple’s chief executive officer, Steve Jobs.

Henrico Superintendent Mark A. Edwards announced the agreement May 2. Following the announcement, district officials met with teachers at Varina High School to introduce the new technology program and to hand out iBooks.

“The students now are the generation of digital learners. They will have access to a wealth of knowledge,” said Edwards. “This is the direction that everyone will be going in the near future.”

This fall, students in grades nine through 12 will receive the 2001 version of Apple’s iBook (see Product Spotlight, page 62), and grades seven and eight will have access in 2002. In the third year, all sixth-graders will receive computers. The district has already started handing computers out to high school teachers.

“There will be an option to buy after the four-year lease is up, at a very significant discount, of course,” said district spokeswoman Janet Binns.

The laptops will enable students to use approved educational applications, as well as burn music CDs, watch DVD movies, and browse the internet.

Henrico County plans to use the iBooks in conjunction with textbooks. “We have no plans to do away with textbooks,” said Binns. “We are going to merge the two and use a new variety of information sources in our curriculum.”

The district is installing wireless data ports in its buildings, as well as stations where students can charge their laptops at school, though they’ll be responsible for charging them at night.

Students will be encouraged to take their iBooks home at night, and Apple will provide them with a special after-hours help line.

“We are asking each parent to pay up to $50 per year on insurance on the laptop– which covers loss, theft, and damage,” said Binns.

Carole Givens teaches U.S. History at Varina High School and was one of the first educators to receive an iBook. One benefit of the laptops is the ability to do classroom management tasks from home, she said. Givens also said she believes the iBooks will help attract new teachers to the district.

“It’s going to be incredible to bring so many resources from the internet right to the fingertips of the children,” she said. “For instance, they can pull up [Thomas Paine’s treatise] Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence, and they can compare the documents right there at their desks.”

Teachers will undergo computer training this summer, and Binns said the staff development component is extensive. It includes three hours of on-site training for each teacher provided by Apple, a full-time technology trainer in every high school, and a full-time tech support person in each school.

The cost of the training and support comes out of the district’s staff development budget and is not part of the $18.5 million.

“There will also be the online Apple learning interchange and a toll-free support number,” Binns said. In addition, the district will provide training opportunities for parents.

Apple unveiled its new iBook laptop the same week it announced the Henrico deal, in a move the company hopes will boost its fading share of the education market.

“Some people have wondered if our commitment to education was as strong as it once was. I can assure you, if anything, it’s stronger,” Jobs said during a briefing with reporters.

Last year, Apple lost its lead to Dell Computer Corp. in overall sales in the education sector, though it ranks first with an 18 percent market share in the portable arena.

The Henrico County deal, which permits “total computer access” for students in the diverse school district, is designed to open up a world of information to children of every socioeconomic background.

“The students I teach are from very diverse backgrounds. Some live in federal projects, and others live in $700,000 homes along the James River,” said Givens. “This is really an equalizer.”

Henrico County Public Schools

Apple for Education


Florida district’s exclusive computer contract could break new ground

A Tampa, Fla., school district has signed an innovative but controversial agreement with Compaq Computer Corp. that will give the district steep discounts on computers. If the agreement proves successful, it could change the way the nation’s major computer manufacturers deal with school systems.

The deal, estimated to be worth more than $50 million, will make Compaq the sole provider of computers and technology services to Hillsborough County Public Schools for a five-year period. It also will allow low-income families to purchase affordable computers for their homes.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time any computer manufacturer has implemented an aggressive educator-parent purchase program, where a percentage of the purchase price will be rebated to the school district,” said Jim Weynand, Compaq’s vice president of government and education markets.

The exclusive agreement will provide the 11th-largest school district in the country with leverage to lower its total cost of ownership through volume discounts. Hillsborough County officials can choose from a variety of Compaq technologies that can be used to build end-to-end solutions—from desktop computers and notebooks to servers and a variety of IT services.

“One of the school board’s priorities is updated and integrated technology. Another is improved internal and external communication. This agreement will help us fulfill both priorities, while greatly enhancing student performance,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Earl Lennard.

According to Director of Technology Earl Whitlock, the contract means Hillsborough will have the lowest pricing on desktops or laptops of any K-12 school system.

“We have a guaranteed percentage rate,” he said. “[Compaq] has established a price point, and that will remain constant. We also have a parent, employee, and student purchase program.” Whitlock explained that Hillsborough will address the digital divide with a one-percent credit for all purchases.

“That money will go into a fund for lower-income students,” he said. The criteria for lower income is still being developed, but it most likely will be for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“Through the employees’ and parents’ rebate program, the district can earn credits that can be redeemed for additional Compaq products, professional development, and other resources that will help them maximize their technology investment,” said Weynand.

In addition to volume discounts and the rebate program, Hillsborough County educators say they will benefit from Compaq’s strong commitment to education through lower total cost of ownership for technology. They say having one provider will make hardware easier to repair, maintain, and replace.

“In my estimation, the more we standardize, the more we can maintain cost,” said Whitlock.

But not all educators are convinced that long-term deals like this one truly benefit schools or students.

“With the changes in technology happening so quickly, no school using taxpayer funds should sign anything long-term,” said Chris Mahoney, director of technology for Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton School District. “A long-term commitment could stifle progress and leave the schools stuck paying for higher-priced equipment.”

Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School in Pennsylvania, agreed that “five years in this business is an eternity. The last thing schools should do is lock themselves in to exclusive arrangements in the midst of an industry where there are many discontinuities … and other economies of purchasing through state and federal purchasing groups.”

George Warren, director of K-12 marketing for Compaq, thinks exclusive, long-term deals between school districts and companies may become more prevalent.

“We will absolutely see more of this type of thing in the future,” he said. “For the most part, people are looking for a leader to help them understand all the things that are out there. If it were easy, they’d go out and set it up themselves.”

Whitlock agreed. “I think other school districts will take a serious look at this in the future, and we are paving new territory,” he said. “In terms of how education manages technology enterprise, it’s important that all those things get linked together.”

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Compaq in K-12 Education