Software company to work with schools

Curriculum help included in effort

June 21, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

County school officials have partnered with an Annapolis software company to improve computer instruction at all grade levels and develop a more effective technology infrastructure throughout the system.

Over the next two years, project organizers expect as many as 100 employees of USinternetworking to take part in the volunteer effort, tentatively called "Tools for the Future."

"We want to create something that's going to evolve as technology evolves," said Kelly McKnight, software training manager at USinternetworking and liaison for the initiative with county schools.

"We're looking at where we are and where we have to go," said Linda Williams, director of library, media services and instructional technology with county schools. "It's a wonderful opportunity to work with someone in the community."

The collaboration began taking shape during the past school year through discussions between schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham and USinternetworking executive's vice president, Jeff McKnight.

"The original goal was just improving the curriculum, but a curriculum is only as good as the network infrastructure and training and the hardware that it can be delivered through," Kelly McKnight said.

"You can't have a curriculum if you don't have all the support tools," said McKnight, who will present plans for the partnership to the board of education at its meeting today.

As an elementary school teacher for five years, she brings another level of insight to the partnership.

"I have a good working knowledge of what the real constraints are in the classroom and all the issues that go into teachers being able to actually teach kids," said McKnight, who taught at South Shore Elementary School in Crownsville from 1997 to 1998.

School officials and USinternetworking began working together last month on the first phase of the collaboration - a review of the computer curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade and the school system's computer hardware and network capabilities.

Other project objectives are to set new goals for computer skills in each grade, recommend changes to the technology infrastructure, write curriculum revisions and train teachers and computer technicians.

Under the project timeline, the curriculum and infrastructure modifications should be in place by Sept. 2001.

Based on project reviews so far, McKnight said that the middle and high school computer curriculums should be expanded, and computers in different schools need to be linked on one network to allow communication between schools.

Because the school system doesn't have its own e-mail system, teachers and administrators can't communicate unless they use independent e-mail accounts.

Another issue is the inconsistency of computer equipment among schools. In some schools, McKnight said, PTAs have raised money to buy computers, while others make do with outdated models.

"We need to find a way to make it a little more uniform," McKnight said, "but still allow individual schools to have a say about what meets their needs."

As the project evolves, McKnight said, organizers will seek financial help from other county businesses and apply for grants. She couldn't provide a cost estimate for the initiative.

"Our belief is that a lot of technology firms are happy to help out school systems if they come to the table with a well thought-out plan," she said.

One of USinternetworking's clients has donated software to the effort.

"We didn't have to ask twice," she said.

Last year USinternetworking donated $160,000 worth of computers and related equipment to set up learning centers for children at three public housing communities in Annapolis.

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