Pa. District Selects Learning Systems from Sony for High-Tech High School

In 1990, administrators at the School District of Lancaster, Pa., found themselves faced with a myriad of problems: an increase in drop-out rates, falling test scores and an overall decline in student performance. These factors, coupled with new graduation assessment regulations set forth by the state, prompted a reevaluation of the districtís curriculum structure.

Lancaster officials embarked on a five-year effort to redesign class organization and content for grades K-12, formulating a strategic plan that would prepare every student who graduates for either further education or for the workforce. The plan relied heavily upon state-of-the-art technologies to create an effective learning environment, taking into account research on economic trends and how the brain functions.

Roughly 800 parents, teachers, students and administrators began working in teams in 1991 to develop the curriculum. Although some parents were initially nervous about the impending changes, they soon realized that clear standards would help children obtain a solid foundation in key subjects.
The LLC-9000 at McCaskey East High School-- PHOTO

New Grade Divisions

This month, the district officially adopted the following divisions: grades preK-5 in elementary school; grades 6-8 in middle school; grades 9-10 in Level 1 high school (McCaskey East High School); and grades 11-12 in Level 2 high school (J.P. McCaskey High School). Under the new performance-based format, students must fulfill core criteria to move to a higher level.

Thus, students learn at their own pace, progressing through the school system after they demonstrate satisfactory mastery of subjects. Technology plays a central role by empowering students to aggressively pursue knowledge rather than wait for teachers to disseminate information. To accomplish its goals, the Lancaster Board of Education decided to completely renovate one high school (J.P. McCaskey) and build another from the ground up (McCaskey East).

McCaskey East High School, which opened last fall, was constructed with modern technology in mind. The site includes computers in every classroom linked to a local area network (LAN) for password-protected access to file servers. For example, teachers can e-mail the media center to request that a videodisc, satellite transmission or cable program be delivered to their classroom at a predetermined time.

The site also features seven Communications Technology Rooms (CTRs) with additional computers and audio-video equipment. The rooms serve as centers for CD-ROM-based instruction, desktop publishing, Internet access and other activities. For an integrated solution, administrators purchased seven LLC-9000 Learning Systems from Sony Electronics (Montvale, N.J.). Four more LLC-9000 systems were installed at J.P. McCaskey High School, which reopens this fall.

Not Just for Languages

The LLC-9000 allows instructors to monitor each studentís performance and download information from CDs or the Internet to supplement class discussions. The teacher control console and all student stations utilize Pentium PCs with video overlay cards for viewing analog video. Developed for language instruction, the LLC-9000 can be combined with optional peripherals to suit different situations or levels of sophistication.

"When selecting the educational tools to carry our students into the 21st century, it was important that the products we selected be user-friendly enough for student use and flexible enough for use in a wide variety of applications," says Dr. Robert J. Shekletski, superintendent of the School District of Lancaster. "Sonyís LLC-9000 is unique in that in addition to offering the most advanced language capabilities, our students will also use the system to integrate technology and computer learning into other curriculum programs."

Besides LLC-9000 systems, McCaskey East High School features multimedia computers in every classroom, electronic message pads, a CD recorder, VCRs, videodisc players, a media retrieval system, a closed-circuit TV network and video presentation stands. Instructors, who attended training classes throughout the past year, have quickly embraced the new technologies.

Although administrators wonít know the full impact of the curriculum reorganization for some time, their careful planning has already paid off. In July, Sony Electronics presented the School District of Lancaster with its Sony Creatorís Award, which recognizes educational efforts that bring about positive change through technology.

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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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