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The Top Ten Technology Districts. (Cover Story).

Everyone knows that school districts are not the first places to run to when you want to seek out the latest trends in technology. At best, K-12 is about two years behind the business sector in buying and implementing new technology.

But a funny thing is happening across the country. Some school districts are not only catching up to businesses, but in some cases, passing them.

It is because of these achievements that we bring you our choices of the Top Ten Technology Districts. Culling through the nuggets contained in each profile, you'll find that some districts are creating software programs to meet their specific needs, testing tablet PCs, rolling out new products to 25,000 users at a time, and creating networks that link residents not only to schools, but also City Hall and local libraries.

When the DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION staff sat down over several meetings to pick these winners, we found that nationally recognized districts, such as Henrico in Virginia and Plano in Texas, were easy choices. But the lessons learned from less well-known districts, such as Oswego in New York, are no less powerful. We hope the information you get in these profiles will help you launch your school closer to the standards these winners have set.

Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 A consortium of 13 towns north of Minneapolis, Minnesota

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

When Director of Technology Patrick Plant heard Anoka-Hennepin had been given this award, he joked that the district had won for "best use of obsolete technology." That's because Anoka-Hennepin, like many other school districts in Minnesota and the rest of the country, has faced a severe budget crunch. One reason Minnesota was especially hard hit financially: Gov. Jesse Ventura, who is leaving office Jan. 1, told voters in 2001 that school districts were asking for more money than they needed in bond issues.

Residents in the district passed two bond measures last month, saving four schools from dosing and reinstating 100 teacher positions. But voters narrowly rejected two other questions and an attempt to pass a $12 million bond to replace outdated computers and tech infrastructure. Even with the budget shortfalls, the district has been inventive in its use of technology for years. Some achievements include being one of the first districts to test the Schools Interoperability Framework in 1998. Other accomplishments: Creating a grading and reporting tool online that the district is licensing to other districts; partnering "with Atomic Learning to create around-the-dock professional development, and creating a statewide volume discount purchase program that has allowed districts to save on their expenditures. "We do make the most out of everything we have, including older technology," Plant admits.

Favorite technology

"Our Web site, because of the way we've empowered people to use it as a communication tool. It's so much more powerful than a year ago. It's happening faster and better than I would have hoped," says Patrick Plant, director of technology.

Most exotic experiment

In Evergreen Park elementary school, the district has spent federal desegregation money to outfit each student in grades 3-5 with laptops. "It's been a huge success," says Randy Edinger, instructional tech facilitator. "They have plenty of digital cameras, and they conduct lots of Internet research."

What's the EEPR program

It's the district-created Elementary Electronic Progress Reporting program. It allows elementary educators to keep grades, course objectives, test scores, development reading assessments and other information for each student right at their fingertips. The district created this program using Pearson's SASI database program because other programs didn't offer die flexibility needed, says Vicki Tjaden, an assistant principal on special assignment.

"We have a pretty solid reputation for developing things," she adds, noting that the program was tested for a year in four of the district's schools. The program is such a success, Anoka-Hennepin has already sold the the software to other school districts.

Biggest tech roadblock

"I'm hesitant to move forward with posting confidential student information on the Web until we have the security we need," Plant says.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

"I'd likely go into the ultimate info architecture to meet parent, staff and student needs. I don't see anything more important than this," Plant says.

If they had $1,000

Plasma screens. "I'd get something to R&D, something cutting-edge," Plant says.

Next tech leap

The Riverview Magnet School opens in fall 2003. The district's first magnet school, located a block from the Mississippi River, will feature math and science, with an emphasis on environmental science. Funded with federal desegregation money, each class plans to feature five networked computers, a laser printer, a digital video camera, a digital camera and a scanner. Teachers will each have laptops and PDAs, says Edinger.

Advice to other districts

Careful planning is important, but don't be afraid to take a risk occasionally, says Edinger. "It's crucial that there's enough support personnel, both in the building and at file district level. In technology, the key words are staff development, staff development, staff development."

STATS

Anoka-Hennepin ISD 11 Coon Rapids, Minnesota www.anoka.k12.mn.us

No. of students: 41,509

No. of teachers: 2,700

Student-to-computer ratio: 6.3 to 1

No. of buildings: 55, including alternative schools and special ed centers

No. of technical support staff: 35

Internet connection: 8 Meg LSS

Technology budget: $5.8 million, 1.9 percent of the total budget

Baltimore City Public Schools Baltimore, Maryland

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

The Baltimore City public school system has enjoyed a rebirth during the past five years, and there's a palpable excitement about its future, especially how technology will shape the education of the district's 105,000 students. The district is collaborating with community organizations and securing myriad state, federal and private grants in its quest for technology implementation. This fall, it opened the Digital Harbor Technology Academy, which provides high school students with career-track courses such as programming and digital video production.

Blueprint for technology implementation

The district's 20-page Information Technology Resources Policy outlines goals for implementing technology in the next 18 months, from wiring all 179 school buildings to using software for student assessment, data keeping and individualized learning, to introducing "smart card" technology to enter buildings and order lunches. Forty-eight school buildings have been wired so far and 80 others are underway, says Gregory Burkhardt, the district's director of classroom support systems.

How this large, urban district received help from outside agencies

Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley helped raise funds to upgrade 6,000 computers donated to the district by the Social Security Administration. The district also received sizeable grants from the Gates Foundation and the McArthur Foundation, plus an IBM grant that will help create a teacher support system using Learning Village software. Teachers will have access to student records, professional development tools and databases such as BigChalk. "We're a relatively impoverished district and school is often the only location students are going to get access to technology," says Burkhardt. "To close our funding gap, outside partnerships are critical."

State and federal funds

The Technology in Maryland Schools program and the federal E-rate program, both begun in 1997, have helped provide a reliable funding stream for infrastructure wiring and other improvements.

Motivation to be tech-forward

The City Board of School Commissioners has been supportive and open-minded, according to Burkhardt. "I think we're on the verge of great things," he says. "Things are starting to pick up, and we've been challenged by our school board to think better, to think higher, to think further."

The Digital Harbor Technology Academy

Located in a traditional high school building, the academy opened its doors this fall to 320 ninth-grade students and plans to add an additional grade the next three years. Students from across the city are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis to study a traditional curriculum, as well as career pathways in networking and computer systems, programming, information systems, and interactive media and digital video. As renovations take place, infrastructure is being laid to create computer lab-style classrooms, a television production studio, and a 21st-century school "library" with a cyber cafe, seminar rooms, print and non-print information resources, and a graphic production copy center. "Every student who successfully completes the program on lime will be leaving with a laptop," says Principal Michael Pitroff.

What's ahead

"I would expect every classroom to be wired and every student to have access to the Interact and e-mail," says Burkhardt. "I see more use of online tools, e-books as replacements for textbooks, and individualized learning in the way and speed each student needs it."

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

"I'd split it between technology training for teachers and hardware for students," Burkhardt says.

If they had $1,000

Burkhardt would opt for technology add-ons such as VIZ cameras and scientific measuring tools that could, for example, track the speed of an object during a physics experiment.

Advice to other districts

"Choose your staff carefully," says Pitroff. "If you have the right people, everything else falls into place."

STATS

Baltimore City Public Schools Baltimore, Maryland www.bcps.k12.md.us

No. of students: 105,000

No. of teachers: 6,800

Student-to-computer ratio: 8 to 1

No. of buildings: 179 schools, 18 administrative buildings

No. of technology support staff: 175

Internet connection: Partial T3 line

Technology budget: $32 million, about 3.5 percent of total budget

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District Carrboro, North Carolina

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

Tech tools and the support that gets them used. That's the simple formula this district uses to ensure that administrators, teachers and students are using technology. With the help of inspiring summer technology camps and a fulltime technology specialist in every school, teachers are integrating technology into the curriculum. The district's Connect 2 School initiative is implementing thin-client solutions to help close the digital divide and offer school-to-home technology.

Favorite technology

The school-to-home environment, created by servers running Citrix software and Think NIC thin-client computers, which is being implemented now. "Thin-client computing has enabled us to increase our reliability rate, provide a consistent desktop to everyone, reduce our support costs and provide access for students and teachers no matter where they are," says Chief Technology Officer Raymond Reitz.

Most hated technology

"Stand-alone inkjet printers and old computers that people don't want to give up," Reitz says.

Best tech trick

Don't invest in "bleeding-edge" technology, Reitz says. "We want to provide our students and staff with contemporary technology solutions. However, we prefer to have others do the beta testing. We need to invest [in] and focus on mainstream, proven solutions."

Another tech trick

Using the district's Web site as a recruiting tool. During the recruiting season, Reitz says the district was receiving 25 to 30 online applications per day versus five paper applications per week, significantly reducing the need for newspaper ads. Job fair registrations have doubled this year, the first year they were offered online. The district's recruiting CD, which has video and Web links, is cited by new hires as one of the reasons they selected the district.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

"It would go to refresh older computers," Reitz says, adding that he'd like the district's typical computer refresh rate to go from five to four years. "It's difficult for schools to give up old equipment.... They feel like they need to hold onto computers as long as they work."

If they had $1,000

Reitz would buy an extra network printer or digital camera.

Next software purchase

A tool to assist with curriculum alignment and mapping.

Technology implementation plan

The technology component of the district's 2002-2008 strategic plan has four objectives, with strategies and indicators of implementation spelled out.

Getting technology into the classrooms

The Cyber Stars program recognizes teacher pioneers in technology integration who have created exemplary Web pages. Elementary Spanish teachers Kathy MacKinnon and Carlos Perera, who received recognition in January, use their Web page to share the district's second language philosophy, dispel myths about language learning and offer activities and learning tips for students and parents. MacKinnon says that a template provided to teachers in a professional development session helped her create the page in a minimal amount of time--an important factor for her as an itinerant teacher. During a teacher summer "technology camp," she learned about Web quests and has since added a Web treasure hunt for students to her site. Teachers attend these week-long camps on their own time, Reitz says.

Problems that keep them up at night

Increasing technology integration in appropriate curricular areas, and the digital divide. "For teachers to integrate technology into classrooms, it needs to be simple, flexible, and most importantly, reliable," Reitz says. "We're increasing our reliability rate by decreasing the number and complexity of hardware and software solutions we roll out to schools." For students without computers, the district is piloting a program that places Internet-access devices in their homes.

Advice to other districts

With the district's Web page getting 60,000 visitors a month, Web architect Meredith Weiss says that an outside host has helped keep Interact traffic moving. Reitz says it's important to establish a clear vision and encourage community involvement in technology efforts. He also reminds administrators that it's crucial to get school leadership support and offer staff development "Don't forget to focus on people and process first--then on the technology tools to rapport them," he adds.

STATS

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District Carrboro, North Carolina www.chccs.k12.nc.us

Student-to-computer ratio: 3.5 to 1

No. of students: 10,450

No. of teachers: Approximately 900

No. of buildings: 14 schools (19 total facilities), with one elementary school under construction and planning for a new high school underway

No. of technical support staff: 15

Internet connection: T1 lines in about half of the schools (hoping to upgrade the rest of schools by end of this school year)

Technology budget: $2.8 million, 3 percent of total operating budget

Henrico County Public Schools Richmond, Virginia

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

It's sleek. It's hip. And it's in the hands of more than 23,000 students. Henrico County (Va.) School District was chosen because it was the first district to give Apple iBook laptop computers to every sixth- through 12th-grader.

The district received the Pioneer Award from National School Boards Association as well as the Governor's Gold Star award, for exemplary leadership in technology deployment in public schools, and the Greater Richmond Technology Councils Skills-Builder Award. In November, NSBA awarded Henrico with the Trailblazer Award for its innovative technology program.

Why they did it

"We had a serious digital divide," says Superintendent Mark Edwards. "We knew 40 percent of the students did not have access to technology at home or in libraries so this has served as a bridge to the digital divide. And students have grown up in a digital world.

"One student said that before the laptops, it was like we were teaching to drive a car using a horse. Now, the student said, we're teaching how to drive a car using a car."

How laptops are used

Virtually every subject. Working with BigChalk and Beyond Books, among others, the district uses digital content to aid lessons. Online discussions with experts or watching geometric figures evolve on a screen give students a here-and-now view of subjects, Edwards says. And science students can watch lab problems solved step-by-step through video productions.

The cost

Buying laptops for every student (in volume and already having the infrastructure) cost $18.6 million, cheaper than buying a single desktop in each classroom, which would have cost $19.6 million, Edwards says.

How iBooks make a difference in the classroom

"The biggest benefit is like having a library at your fingertips," says Nancy Ford, U.S. history and government teacher at Godwin High School. "It's instant access to truly endless resources, various historical sites, current government information.... It's current information, and it's balanced information. Kids can find neat resources that are more current and alive through iBooks."

How the laptop has changed education

"Here, it has been a pretty dramatic change on the focus, trying to get teachers to incorporate different techniques instead of just lecturing in front of the classroom," Ford says. "While lecturing can be effective ... we're trying to get kids involved in the learning process."

Change in student achievement

"It's hard to tell," Ford says. "The state SOL scores have gone up dramatically ... from five years ago to this past year." But the connection between achievement and laptops is still unclear.

Change in student academic life

"It makes it easier," says Raymond Palmer Jr., a senior at Varina High School. "Sometimes when I'm on the road, traveling with my parents, I can do word processing and numerous activities, and I have a calculator so I can do my math work, too."

Laptop philosophy

"I think students who are motivated to work and want to learn to use iBooks should have them," Palmer says. "The possibilities are pretty much unlimited."

Future plans

A full-time trainer at the high and junior high schools for ongoing support to teachers and giving laptops to every third-through fifth-grader in the next two years, Edwards says.

Biggest technology flop

Lack of capacity of the network to handle information. Problems have been resolved with an upgrade.

STATS

Henrico County Public Schools Richmond, Virginia www.henrico.k12.va.us

No. of students: 43,500

No. of teachers: 3,011

Student-to-computer ratio: 1 to 1 for grades 6-12, and 1 to 5 for elementary

No. of buildings: 72 buildings, 64 of which are schools

No. of technology support staff: 89

Internet connection: 155 Megabit Pipe (OC3) Netscape

Technology budget: $12.4 million, 4 percent of total budget

Lake Washington School District #414 Redmond, Washington

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

Technology is everywhere in the Lake Washington (Wash.) School District.

High-tech learning centers are in four high schools. A four-tiered professional development program helps teachers learn how to use computers and integrate this knowledge in the classroom. And an educational plan ranges from having kindergartners start banging on computer keyboards to having high school students use computer-assisted design for senior projects.

Chosen as a model site for technology integration by the National School Boards Association last year, Lake Washington has been a technology leader since the early 1990s.

Best technology trick

"You first need to put in a robust infrastructure and develop a plan" for faculty members and teachers to access, says Chip Kimball, assistant superintendent for information services. "We clearly have a good infrastructure and fiber optics in every classroom.... By and large, we're the exception [to digital disconnect]. We're the upper 10 percent of the technologically capable."

Best technology trick

Buy in bulk.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

Guarantee an Internet service provider so students could use laptops effectively 24-7, Edwards says.

If they had $1,000

Digital cameras.

Advice to other districts

"Our children can't wait and the future is now," Edwards says. "We need to be preparing them for a future that few of us can even visualize."

How students are using technology

In K-2, students use Reality Based Learning, an early literacy software program, to acquire technical and literacy skills through, activities, Kimball says. In grades three and four, students use more productivity-type tools to develop cognitive ability, such as applying an Excel spread-sheet for math. And in high school, students have high-tech learning centers, where they learn about video editing, digital media and certification programs, such as Cisco or Oracle Academy.

As part of the Northeast Vocational Area Cooperative, Lake Washington's Juanita High School offers courses that other schools in the same or other nearby districts don't, and vice versa, so students can travel from school to school to take courses. For example, Juanita High offers Architectural Draw and Design, which many students from other districts take.

Four-tiered professional development program

Tier 1, or Information Navigator, involves five core competencies in which all teachers need to demonstrate proficiency, Kimball says. Tier 2 is Information Integrator, a week-long institute to learn how to integrate technology into student-centered curriculum using Web publishing and organization tools. Tier 3 is Information Synthesizer that teaches how to use data effectively. Tier 4, under development, will help teachers use specific applications to increase student performance.

Favorite technology

"The kids really enjoy Internet-based things," says Jack Tobin, third-grade teacher at Albert Einstein Elementary School. "There are lots of Web sites. There are math problems kids mn do, type the answer in and check it They get immediate feedback"

How elementary students use technology

Students meet with teachers and parents in a goal-setting conference. Tobin says his students make an Excel graph of their own spelling test scores and use PowerPoint to present it on an over-head screen. They could explain that their goal is to get at least 90 percent of their answers correct "So they're actually using technology to present the goal as a teacher would give a presentation to the staff, and they're using Excel for graphs and Microsoft Word to write their goal," Tobin says.

What students think of technology

"The third-graders do realize this is a special thing--that they have their own computers," Tobin says. "They're still jazzed about it. And they don't complain when we do paper-and-pencil things either. Before they write a letter, I have them jot down a list of ideas first and then they go back to the computer to write it"

Student achievement

"Part of the difficulty is to link achievement with technology," says Jane Todd, principal at Juanita High School. "I think kids are much more proficient at using technology and interested in incorporating technology in the class-room. The trick is how to make sure it isn't passive."

Most exotic piece of technology

"We are testing one of our first tablet PCs" that transforms written notes in longhand into a typed format on the computer, Kimball says. "It will have tremendous implications. It's wireless. It's battery-operated ..."

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

Wireless laptop labs, Kimball says. Now, the district has seven laptops.

If they had $1,000

"I'd buy a PDA for the superintendent because ultimately it's through modeling the use of technology that will create the imperative for the organization to change," Kimball says.

Advice to other districts

"From a hardware perspective, focus on strong hardware standards," Kimball says. "From a cultural perspective, develop a comprehensive and systematic professional development strategy. From a software perspective, it's important to develop a strategy that is proven to increase performance."

STATS

Lake Washington School District #414 Redmond, Washington www.lkwash.wednet.edu

No of students: 23,500

No of teachers: 1,350

Student-to-computer ratio: 4 to 1

No. of buildings: 48 schools

No. of technology support staff: 35

Internet connection: Multiple T1 through K-20 network statewide, and multiple T1 to school sites

Technology budget: $10 million, 8 percent of total budget

Lemon Grove School District Lemon Grove, California

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

Not only can the Lemon Grove School District boast a high-speed WAN that connects the district's schools and administration offices, it can claim it's doing what other districts only dream about: offering a community-wide network. Operated by the district, for no profit, Project LemonLink connects the district to students' homes, City Hall, Public Works Department, fire stations and senior centers. In Lemon Grove, the academic goals for 4,800 K-8 pupils, many of whom have limited English proficiency, include students' ability to "learn to utilize technology effectively as an everyday tool."

The district's network features several aspects that make it distinct: a mix of microwave and fiber optics handle WAN linkage; two-thirds of the PCs in classrooms are actually thin-client machines called Winterms, powered by the Windows CE OS; the district acts as application service provider itself, using Citrix MetaFrame application server software, Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and Terminal Server Edition to run programs and deliver data to desktops across the WAN; and Darryl LaGace, the district's director of information services, manages to support this whole infrastructure, encompassing 2 3 sites including eight schools, with just five network technicians.

Favorite technology

The home connection. "The idea that the child can log-on at home--that's where we're heading in education," says Superintendent Lean King.

Most exotic piece of technology

It might be exotic now, but it's the wave of the future: the tablet PC thin client

Most hated technology

Laser disc technology. "We invested a lot of money in it. We bought into the idea, but it just didn't go anywhere," says King.

Best tech trick

"We got our technology up and running by bringing in volunteers early on and giving good training," says LaGace. "We didn't force it--we brought on willing participants first."

Biggest tech flop

"Assuming that families had cable TV in their homes. Also the assumption that children are growing up in homes with literate adults. Many of our families are greatly benefitting from the resources provided through LemonLink. So much so that we've given separate ID numbers to family members," says King.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

In an effort to get the student-to-computer ratio even, LaGace would invest in putting a thin-client tablet PC in the hands of every student in one specific grade level.

King would like to "increase technology access in the home. With access, it's like having your own library in your living room."

If they had $1,000

King would "spend it on staff development. It's the greatest hurdle districts face. Even $1,000 on staff development goes a long way. In our district, each staff member receives 120 hours in staff development for technology." Barbara Allen, LemonLink's project director, echoes the need for staff development, saying, "spending money on substitutes so teachers can observe `best practice' classroom teachers in action is so important."

Newest software purchase

Just purchased PowerSchool's student information system. "Our bus drivers finish their route and then log-on to the system. Everyone from the bus driver to the groundskeeper knows that technology has its place in this district," says King.

Technology implementation motto

"Feed the rabbits and starve the snails." For those grasping technology, give it to them. Invest in the people who are willing and. able to embrace technology. "Rabbits multiply quickly," says King.

What students think of the technology they use

King says, "They literally take it for granted because they have confidence in what they do." "Our students are taken aback when they go to another district that doesn't have as much technology as they are used to," says LaGace.

What the community thinks of technology

Ask anyone in the community, and what you would hear is that Lemon Grove is a connected learning community. The mayor is on the network. Even the fire stations run their technology on LemonLink.

Teacher acceptance of technology

"The key is when teachers see motivation in their students," says Allen. "When students get excited, teachers get excited about it, too. The pay-off is seeing what it does for their students."

Problems that keep them up at night

"The worry is about constantly upgrading systems. We continue to look for ways to use what we have," says King. "Making sure every child has more opportunities to learn," is important too, LaGace says.

Advice to other districts

"You can buy all the technology you want, but you need training, support and coaching. The human being, not the technology, is what you invest in," says King.

STATS

Lemon Grove School District Lemon Grove, California www.lgsd.k12.ca.us

No. of students: 4,462

No. of teachers: 233

Student-to-computer ratio: 1 to 2

No. of buildings: 8

No. of technology support staff: 5

Internet connection: 155 MB Internet 2 connection

Technology budget: $1.1 million, 3.5 percent of total budget

Oswego City School District Oswego, New York

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

When you've got so many national and international inquiries about your technology program that you have to distribute a DVD to respond, it's a pretty good sign that your district is top-notch. Awarded a Spotlight Schools designation by the U.S. Department of Education in 1999, Oswego was recognized for building an enterprise-wide information delivery system that's fully integrated for teaching and learning. One example: Teacher projects created in professional development courses are practical enough to be used right away--by any teacher in the district. Projects are collected online in the K-12 Curriculum Collection, a searchable data-base that any teacher can access. Those who need assistance can consult an online tutorial or contact a teacher on assignment for technology immediately.

Indications of tech success

More students are entering first-choice colleges and more are receiving technology merit scholarships, says Brendan Fear, supervisor of data processing. Superintendent Kenneth Eastwood adds that most teachers have created Web pages and the district site averages 30,000 unique hits a day.

Favorite technology

The newest, a Citrix school-to-home solution. Students and teachers can now access personalized fries and more than 53 applications no matter where they are. The solution will help extend the lifecycle of Oswego's current hardware investments, and thin-client terminals are being installed in school libraries and learning labs.

Most hated technology

"Stuff touted as the next greatest thing that really teaches kids how to play video games but doesn't raise content knowledge," says Thomas Caswell, the technology integration specialist for secondary schools.

Most exotic piece of technology

The 3-D printer in the district's pre-engineering program, says Eastwood. Students can design anything--from an engine block to a human heart--with software. The printer creates a 3-D scale model.

Biggest tech flop

Administrative software purchased after almost two years of investigation, says Eastwood. The problem: Significant holes between stated district needs and product promises. "It caused real problems," he says.

Best tech trick

Developing a close relationship with Microsoft and other vendors helps drive down costs, Eastwood says. For teachers, it's the use of the timesaving electronic gradebook, even when it's done on a simple spreadsheet, that is tops, says Cathleen Chamberlain, the technology integration specialist for elementary schools.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

Eastwood says it would probably go toward updating computers and purchasing more units, especially for the middle school.

If they had $1,000

Scanners for teachers' rooms. Chamberlain says the goal is to get one for every grade level in each building.

Next technology leap

Eastwood envisions a wireless tablet environment in high schools within a few years. Students could access the network through tablet devices, take notes that will be recorded on the hard drive and then head to their next class.

Next software purchase

For seven years, says Eastwood, "Our whole emphasis has been using technology for instruction. Now, it's time for us to start developing the administrative side."

Problems that keep them up at night

Security, viruses and hackers, says Fear, who anticipates more issues with hackers now that the school-to-home system has been implemented.

Advice to other districts

Save funds for professional development, says Chamberlain. Some Oswego teachers average more than 400 hours in instructional technology learning alone (on top of the in service requirements). Courses have been known to fill up seven minutes after sign-up begins. For the lowdown on the district's full technology program, visit www.oswego.org/dvd to request an informational DVD.

STATS

Oswego City School District Oswego, New York www.oswego.org

No. of students: 5,000

No. of teachers: 425

Student-to-computer ratio: 2.5 to 1

No. of buildings: 7 schools, plus central office, warehouse and transportation center

No. of technical support staff: 4 full time, plus 2 school-year clerical staff

Internet connection: Dual T-1's

Technology budget: $1.2 million, 2 percent of total operating budget

Plano Independent School District Plano, Texas

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

This district outside Dallas has achieved many tech advances in the five years since Superintendent Douglas Otto and Assistant Superintendent of Technology Jim Hirsch teamed up in their second district (both had worked in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin district). Piano has installed a fiber-optic network that links its 66 schools and administrative buildings; it started a broad school-to-home program that includes offering low-cost DSL connections to families in its district; and it has a program to donate its old computers to educationally disadvantaged students (it replaces school computers after six years).

Board of Trustees President Mary Beth King says part of the reason the technology in the district works so well is that it's accepted from the top down. While Otto and Hirsch form a great team, she says, the board follows their example by posting their agendas and votes online so residents can check the district Web page to get specific news about board meetings.

Piano was named one of the top 10 streaming media implementations of 2001 by the Aberdeen Group. The district has more than 1,000 full-length video and audio ties, more than 12,000 indexed video clips available on its broadband network. Hirsch won a CoSN Making It Happen award this year for his contributions to successful integration of technology in education. The district has passed $120 million in bonds since 1995.

Favorite technology

"Our presentation equipment," says Assistant Superintendent of Technology Jim Hirsch. This includes large-screen TVs and projectors. This equipment allows teachers to use a group process and energize their classes, he says.

Most exotic piece of technology

"Exotic? We're trying to standardize," says Hirsch. "Our most interesting is our internal broadcast capability. We have a 116-channel cable system. We can broadcast any event, live, to any other school and our public access channel."

Biggest tech flop

"We very rarely fund a product that scales as it's supposed to. We have 25,000 [users in our district]. We turn out to be a testing lab for companies," says Hirsch.

Best cost-saving trick

"We negotiate contracts with vendors that includes a long-term maintenance agreement," says Superintendent Douglas Otto. "It cuts down on the repair side, and we still get an excellent price on computers because we buy in bulk."

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

"I'd buy more remote access licenses," says Hirsch. "Our challenge is budgeting for networks. With that money, we could add another 400 remote users."

If they had $1,000

Probably handhelds, says Hirsch. The district already has four student groups testing the use of handheld computers in the classroom.

Next tech leap

"Infrastructure wise, we'll use technology to help us with the next generation of curriculum development," says Otto.

Problem that keeps them up at night

"Replacement as things get old," says Otto. "The bigger we get, the more expensive it is to replace equipment."

Advice to other districts

"Use your team and community to build a tech plan. Get everyone involved and don't stop," says Otto. "You've got to have that vision in every classroom."

STATS

Plano Independent School District Plano, Texas www.pisd.edu

No. of students: 50,632

No. of teachers: 3,533

Student-to-computer ratio: 2.2 to 1

No. of schools: 63

No. of technology support staff: 81

Internet connection: High speed redundant 9 Mbps and 45 Mbps

Technology budget: $11.8 million, 3.8 percent of total operating budget

Township High School District 214 Arlington Heights, Illinois

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

A progressive district with a shoot-for-the-moon attitude and a history of fiscal readiness, Township High School District 214 in Illinois emerged on the high-tech scene nearly a decade ago. Today, this 12,000-student district located 25 miles northwest of Chicago boasts Internet-connected science labs, distance leaning rooms, virtual field trips and the country's first school-based fitness center using FitLinxx tracking software.

In March 2002, the district was one of two nationwide chosen as a Technology Leadership Network District by the National School Boards Association.

How they get so far ahead of the game

When it came to technology, "the board really bit the bullet," says Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Ennis. In 1994, soon after forward-thinking board members returned from site visits to two high-tech high schools, District 214 hooked up with Apple to place computers in class-rooms and administrative offices and to provide training. "We had representatives from school districts across the country coming to see our setup," says Robert Zimmanck, board chairman. "We were a real model."

How they paid for it

The board had a record of fiscal responsibility, sound investment and parental/taxpayer support, according to Zimmanck. In 1994, it floated a $22 million working cash bond to fund its initial technology investment.

How students are using technology

To teleconference with scientists and business leaders in the distance learning room; trade data in the Internet-connected science lab; and create brochures, presentations and I-movies. "One student did a presentation with animated characters on the history of the Pez candy and how it came to America," says Jan Planz-Schneider, principal of the alternative Vanguard School. "Can you imagine how flat and unimaginative it would have been as a written report?"

The District Applied Technology Academy

In return for 60 hours of this intensive, integrated training, teachers receive a $1,500 stipend toward the purchase of aa Apple computer or software.

How they support their staff

A peer-coaching program is in the works; it calls for 12 tech-savvy teachers in each building to help Wain other teachers in their discipline. Plus, teachers can get technology help at the click of a mouse. "We have a Just In Time service that allows teachers to go online at our district Web site to get tutorials and immediate answers to questions about every piece of software in the district," says Bobb Darnell, director of staff support.

What's ahead

Computers for every student and staff member, hopes Keith Mann, director of media technology, support and network services. Or the connection of media distribution centers in every building, so the superintendent can get in front of a camera at her desk and have her message broadcast simultaneously to every television in the district.

Student achievement results

It's impossible to draw a straight line between technology in the classroom and the district's steady increases on standardized tests. But as a result of computer and Internet use, teachers are drawing from a greater range of pedagogy and students seem more absorbed in their lessons.

Biggest technology flop

"We haven't had one yet," says Mann. "We've had some rocky times with implementation, but eventually we get things working."

Best technology trick

Have a back-up wireless system. "When a backhoe dropped its teeth into the ground and grabbed our fiber cable, the network in one of our buildings died," Mann says. "But nobody knew it. The data automatically jumped to the wireless network."

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

"I would set up a video server and put lots of content on it," says Mann.

If they had $1,000

A digital camera and firewire drive.

Advice to other districts

"Build for the future," says Mann. "Your usage will increase."

STATS

Township High School District 214 Arlington Heights, Illinois www.dist214.k12.il.us

No. of students: 12,000

No. of teachers: 700

Student-to-computer ratio: 4 to 1

No. of buildings: 6 high schools, 3 small alternative schools, one administrative building

No. of technology support staff: 14

Internet connection: 20-megabite DS3 pipeline

Technology budget: $3.5 million, 2 percent of overall budget

Western Heights School District Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

WHY THEY WERE CHOSEN

When administrators in the Western Heights (Okla.) School District looked at their small, yet spread-out district of 3,100 students and 233 teachers, they thought there must be a better way to bring everything together. So with the help of Dell, Intel, Cisco Systems and others, the district ended up--after investing about $11.5 million--building JetNet, one of the most sophisticated networking and video conferencing systems for K-12 schools in the country.

The system--with its 100MB, dedicated fiber optic network--is so advanced that the district won the 1999 first runner-up prize for user excellence by Network World magazine. The system links the district's seven school buildings and allows students to interact with other students across town or across the country in real time from classroom computers.

Favorite technology

"The integration of disparate data sources using the Microsoft. Net platform and being able to publish these in a secure environment as a Web service for teacher, administrator and state reporting," says Superintendent Joe Kitchens.

Most exotic piece of technology

Moving the district phone system from a traditional PBX system to a total VoIP solution, including telephony access at the teacher's desktop and a unified messaging system using the existing Ethernet infrastructure.

Most hated technology

"At times it is the district's VoIP deployment," adds Kitchens.

Best tech trick

The use of Microsoft SMS and Symantec's Ghost Server to keep TCO to a minimum.

If they had an extra $100,000 to spend

Kitchens would purchase additional computers for student access or try to expand on the concept of providing wireless access to the student's home for the support of education in an any-place, anytime learning environment

If they had $1,000

Purchase another student computer.

Philosophy on getting technology into the classrooms

Make technology easier for the teachers to use. "Technology is becoming more pervasive in the classroom and unless it is easy for the teacher to take advantage of this, it becomes a hindrance to the teaching process," says Daryl McDaniel, chief information officer.

What students think of the technology they use

Students are raised on this technology. In many cases they are more comfortable with technology than the teachers. Students would be very disappointed if they didn't have the advanced level of technology programs offered by the district.

What parents think of the technology their children use

During the past six years, in five different elections, voters approved more than $7 million in bonds to support technology deployment in the district

Teacher acceptance of technology

It's very high. District planners strive to integrate technologies that make it easier for the teacher to address their main mission, which is providing effective instruction for students.

STATS

Western Heights School District Oklahoma City, Oklahoma www.westernheights.k12.ok.us

No. of students: 3,160

No. of teachers: 233

Student-to-computer ratio: 2 to 1

No. of buildings: 7

No. of technical support staff: 5

Internet connection: 100Mb to the Internet and to Internet 2 (Abilene Network)

Technology budget: $2 million (including E-rate funds), 9.9 percent of total operating budget
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Publication:District Administration
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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