Principal: Technology redefines high school industrial arts classes

In a column written for The Citizen of Laconia, N.H., high school principal Ken Wiswell discusses the changing face of technology education in high schools. Wiswell notes that programs such as woodshop and metals are now part of more comprehensive courses aimed at matching up students with the modern job market. Within two years, hiss school hopes to have courses titled Energy and Power Technologies, Information and Communications Technologies, Transportation Technologies, Manufacturing Technologies and Construction Technologies.

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District builds room for tech growth into its long-term budget

The Kansas City Star reports on the growth of broadcast technology programs at local schools. These programs have grown so much that the district in question has had to put $5 million of “elbow room” money into its budget to cope with arising technology demands over the next five years. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Outgoing N.H. Gov. Benson staying loyal to laptop initiative

The Telegraph of Nashua, N.H., reports on a speech by outgoing Gov. Craig Benson, who helped lead a school laptop initiative during his time in office. Benson said he is pleased with the privately-funded $1.4 million program so far, but there is much more to do, and he will continue raising money to help.

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Nashville schools busy upgrading their IT infrastructure

The City Paper of Nashville, Tenn., reports that Metro Chief Technology Officer Lance Lott is leading the district through a major upgrade. Viruses have caused problems throughout the district and led to network outages. To combat the problem, Lott’s team is installing firewalls, restructuring the central office network, and re-examining how servers manage district-wide information so no individual server is overworked.

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Illinois elementary school thrilled with its wireless network

The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., reports that a local elementary school is the first in its district to eliminate its computer lab by placing wireless laptops throughout the school. “Our goal is to take technology to the learning rather than learning to the technology,” said the school’s director of instructional technology.

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School boards curb eMail exchanges

Wary of violating their states’ open-meetings laws, some public school officials are looking to limit the volume and content of the eMail messages they send each other–even as other school employees are increasingly turning to eMail to enhance communication.

Victor Begg, a trustee with the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., school district, asked his fellow trustees at a recent board meeting to consider a policy that discourages board members from discussing public matters via eMail.

"If it involves a discussion that requires consensus, it becomes a matter of violating the [state] Open Meetings Act," Begg told The Detroit News for a Jan. 3 story.

"It’s an efficient form of communication if we have to poll each other about when to meet," Begg said of electronic correspondence. But "the crux of my argument is for us not to discuss too much over eMail."

The matter hasn’t come up for discussion in Bloomfield Hills again, but eMail exchanges between trustees have cooled down since he first brought the issue up at the board meeting, Begg said.

Begg isn’t the only public official concerned about eMail communication between members of a public school or government body. City councils and school boards around the country are dealing with issues of eMail and internet communication in the absence of laws that address newer technology.

 

Research by the Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida found that 45 states fail to address the use of eMail in their public-records laws. In eight states, experts say, laws without eMail provisions could preclude citizen access, according to the research.

At Michigan’s Troy City Schools, board members passed a policy last year that limits to the bare minimum eMail discussions among board members.

"We’re very concerned about the Open Meetings Act and that we conduct ourselves in a way that doesn’t violate it," said Troy City Schools board President Tony Spagnola.

Spagnola said there is ample consensus on this matter, which has been covered in training and conferences regarding the conduct of school boards.

Dawn Phillips Hertz, an attorney for the Michigan Press Association, said there has been a longtime concern about public bodies’ communication outside of public meetings. The issue becomes more complicated when it involves technology.

"eMail is deadly," said Phillips Hertz. "We are used to hitting reply and to forward [messages]. When you talk about the Open Meetings Act, you might try not to violate the law, but if you send an eMail to other board members and then one of those two forwards it to a third and a fourth, you’ve got a quorum participating in a discussion."

When using eMail, school board members must consider the open-records and open-meetings laws as they are written in their particular state or municipality, said Lisa Soronen, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

"A lot of these laws are vastly different," she said, adding that what is required of public officials in one state might differ from that in another.

To make sure everyone is "on the same page," Soronen recommends that school board members and other public officials consult their state attorneys general and work together to develop a plan for dealing with the use of eMail in the public domain.

The idea, she said, is to come up with a process "that everyone is involved in."

Links:

Marion Brechner Citizen Access Project
http://www.citizenaccess.org

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

 

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Funding a big issue as Kentucky eyes technology upgrades

The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., reports on education funding issues being debated in the Kentucky Legislature. Educators in that state say they do not have enough funding for necessary programs, even though Gov. Ernie Fletcher is about to present a broad new education plan that includes funding for school technology upgrades.

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High-tech helmets help coaches reduce risk of concussions

The Los Angeles Times reports that big-time college football programs are equipping their players’ helmets with the Head Impact Telemetry System, a high-tech device that helps reduce concussions by determining how hard a player has been hit. Data from the hit are transmitted wirelessly to the sidelines, where doctors and trainers can determine if the player should be taken out of the game.

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Residency dispute tests virtual schooling

A virtual school controversy in Pennsylvania that centers on the definition of “residency” points to an area of concern that cyber schools in other states might one day have to grapple with, too.

The dispute involves more than $100,000 in tuition that taxpayers in a suburban Pittsburgh school district paid for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s children to be educated via computer at their Virginia home–revealing a basic flaw in Pennsylvania’s 2002 cyber-school law.

Although the law requires school districts to pay for any resident students enrolled in a cyber school, it does not explicitly say this applies to children from families who maintain a Pennsylvania residence but actually live outside the state.

The Penn Hills School District has asked the state Education Department to review Santorum’s case, although the department itself has not adopted any guidelines for such situations.

In the case of the Achievement House Charter School–a cyber school based in suburban Philadelphia that opened last fall–the department advised school officials to not enroll a girl whose parents owned a Pennsylvania home, but spent most of their time doing missionary work in Kenya, according to the school’s administrator, Wallace H. Wallace.

State Rep. James Roebuck, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said lawmakers need to clarify which students may enroll in a cyber school at taxpayers’ expense.

“Taxpayers have enough of a responsibility for trying to educate kids who are bona fide, legitimate residents,” the Philadelphia legislator said. “They shouldn’t have to be paying for kids who aren’t residents of that district.”

The Penn Hills school board contends it should not have had to pay for the three-plus years that Santorum’s five school-age children attended the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School because his family actually lives in Virginia, even though the senator and his wife also own a house in the district.

The Pennsylvania Republican’s children had been enrolled in the school, headquartered in Midland, Pa., since the 2001-02 school year.

In November, amid publicity resulting from a school board member’s criticism of the arrangement, Santorum agreed to withdraw his children from the cyber school and resume home-schooling them.

Neither the cyber school nor the senator has offered to reimburse the school district, and Santorum has said he did nothing wrong.

Nick Trombetta, the cyber school’s chief administrative officer, said Santorum produced valid documentation of his Penn Hills residency, including his driver’s license, when he enrolled the children.

“It didn’t go under the radar at all,” Trombetta said.

But Penn Hills school board member Erin Vecchio said Santorum has never lived in the district, despite owning a two-bedroom house that was assessed at $106,000 last year. His nearly four-acre property in Leesburg, Va., was assessed at $757,000 this year, according to tax records.

“We never even knew they attended the cyber school,” Vecchio said.

Vecchio said she believes a 2000 state Supreme Court decision made clear what constitutes residency.

The court ordered the Cumberland Valley School District to cover the tuition of a boy who attended a private school for disabled children in Montgomery County, Pa., even though his mother maintained a second home in another school district. The justices concluded the family were Cumberland Valley residents because they “stay there during the days and sleep there at night.”

Although there is no case law specifically involving residency standards for cyber-school students, an attorney for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said they would likely be similar to those that apply to other public school situations.

“It would be a difficult read to try to say that residency is different for cyber students than for other people,” said the lawyer, Emily Leader.

State Rep. Jess Stairs, chairman of the House Education Committee, agreed.

“I think the residency question is something that should be resolved,” he said. “I would hope we can look at it again.”

But Erik Arneson, an aide to Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill of Lebanon County, Pa., said he sees no urgency to revisit the law because it “clearly lays out a process for determining residency.”

“Given the fact that this is an isolated case … we think the law is working as intended,” Arneson said.

Links:

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
http://santorum.senate.gov/public

Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
http://www.wpccs.com

Penn Hills School District
http://www.phsd.k12.pa.us

Pennsylvania School Boards Association
http://www.psba.org

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