Computer systems in all 32 school buildings to be upgraded

September 21, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Ten years ago, schools were introducing students to computers.

"Now, the kids are ahead of the schools," said Forrest Hudspeth, a Woodbine parent who teaches computer programming at Bell Atlantic Corp.

To try to turn things around again, the Carroll County school system is beginning a plan to update the computer systems in all 32 school buildings, starting with North Carroll High School.

"We're going from a two-lane country road to a California six-lane superhighway," said Mr. Hudspeth, who serves on a committee of parents, teachers and business people trying to develop a technology plan for county schools.

The goal is an integrated system that will let students and teachers use worldwide databases through Internet. They would be able to hook into the database at the University of Maryland and reach Pennsylvania State University, which has an extensive agricultural database.

On the local level, students and teachers would be able to reach out to each other, even if one was in Hampstead and the other in Winfield.

Students from different schools would be able to work on projects together, each gaining access to the work via a terminal. All English teachers in the county would be able to send each other electronic mail and hold teleconferences.

And, because the new systems would integrate instructional and administrative data, teachers could sit at computer terminals in their own classrooms to do all of their computer work. Now, they can do instructional work in one lab but have to move to an office computer to get data on student attendance, grades and other administrative information.

For North Carroll in particular, the new system will help administrators and teachers as they assess whether the new four-period day is a success, Principal Greg Eckles said. Teachers will be able to better analyze grades and attendance.

Business and industry are already using such technology, and schools need to catch up, Mr. Hudspeth said.

School board member C. Scott Stone, an engineer at Bell Atlantic, also has been pushing for the advanced technology so that students can learn how to find information on computers and use them, he said.

"If we don't plan now," he said, "our children won't be able to compete."

Introducing children to computers isn't enough, since they have already made friends with them at home, Dr. Eckles said.

"We're trying to educate the students to use the computer as a tool to get information," Dr. Eckles said.

Mr. Hudspeth found the schools lacking a few years ago when he called technology supervisor William Piercy to ask whether the schools had a standard operating environment (SOE) plan, which would list specific equipment and software to

purchased, letting the schools avoid buying pieces that would have limited use or become obsolete.

The schools didn't have such a list.

"I really chewed him out; I'm surprised he's still talking to me," Mr. Hudspeth said. Mr. Piercy seized on Mr. Hudspeth's interest and put him on the committee.

Mr. Hudspeth serves on a steering committee of the larger technology committee. The steering committee has come up with a list of equipment and software the schools will buy in the next five years.

For parent-teacher associations, the list will be as helpful as a bridal registry is to a wedding guest: insurance that the gift will be used. The PTAs often raise money to buy computers for schools. Mr. Hudspeth said he had hated to see the PTAs spending money buying "yesterday's technology."

By next week, the list will go out to all principals and all PTA and PTO presidents.

Mr. Hudspeth estimated that it could cost $25,000 to $50,000 per building just to lay the basic wiring and hardware to create an integrated computer system countywide.

Mr. Piercy said that doesn't count the software and additional terminals, although the current terminals and equipment will be compatible with the new technology.

Mr. Piercy said the total cost could be well over $1.5 million and that the schools and the community need to look at how to pay for it.

"It's going to have to come from other than the general operating budget," Mr. Piercy said. The school system can request the money it as a capital budget item or look to grants from private business, or use a combination of the two sources.

For North Carroll High School, school officials purchased a Novell file server. A server is a main computer that links several terminals to each other and to databases.

The school also converted to unshielded twisted-pair wiring, which is thinner than coaxial cable and will allow more connections between computers.

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