Kentucky Parents Lead Grass-Roots Effort To Implement Computer Learning System

Members of Woodlawn Elementary's Parent Teacher Organization are acting rather than just talking about educational reform these days. They've committed to raising $130,000 to pay for a state-of-the-art integrated learning system. Thus far, almost $60,000 has been raised, enough to implement the first phase of the long-term plan. That's no small feat for an organization whose previous fundraising efforts seldom aimed higher than $3,000. When students returned to the Danville, Ky. school last fall, they began using a 27-station computer network in the school's media lab. The ultimate goal is to place over 200 networked computers throughout the campus. (The preK-5 school has 22 classrooms, 555 students and 33 teachers.) "Gold Standard" "We're in the process of building the gold standard of all systems in Kentucky," says Kevin Claxon, president of the PTO. Realizing this impressive network entailed an intense year-long effort by the organization, which created specialized taskforces to investigate relevant issues. Max Pope, principal of Woodlawn Elementary, says the PTO identified explicit criteria for viable technology options, such as hardware, software, networking and maintenance costs. Parti-cipants decided that the software decision should drive the hardware purchase. They surveyed five popular systems before settling on Computer Curriculum Corp.'s SuccessMaker. Pope cites SuccessMaker's well-conceived management system as an important factor in its selection. The software packages purchased by the school cover reading, science, math and basic skills. CCC trained teachers to use the ILS in August. Thirty parents received training as well. Once classes were in session, students became acquainted with the various software packages, beginning with Readers Workshop. Depending on their grade level, classes then spent between 15 and 30 minutes per day in the lab. Any extra computers were reserved for students who needed remediation. Students reacted very favorably to SuccessMaker, which combines exploratory and skill-based lessons as well as sophisticated tracking functions. Based on 25 years of educational research, the product's "intelligent tutoring" creates an individualized learning experience for each student. Child-Centered Curriculum The programs also helped the school fulfill the goals of the Kentucky Educational Reform Act (KERA) of 1990, which altered education directives from a subject-driven to a child-centered curriculum. Principal Pope was not surprised at the tremendous enthusiasm generated by the computer-assisted learning project. Woodlawn had already received the 1990 School of Excellence award, and parental support has always been strong. Parents attribute their support to an understanding that their children will inherit a technologically sophisticated world. By giving students more control over their own learning, they can master the skills that will be essential in the Knowledge Age. "The parents felt strongly about the importance of technology in the educational process and decided to do something about it," Pope says. Fundraising Strategies Realizing that only a few state dollars could be used for the latest project, the PTO's technology task force convened in 1993 to discuss fundraising strategies. Phase I of their plan included pledge-driven walks, raffles, bake sales, community donations and matching funds. After the $130,000 has been paid in full, the fundraising will continue for future enhancements. (The state has agreed to pay for one-third of the total lab expenditure, approximately $60,000.) No one appears daunted by the enormity of the undertaking. Brenda Todd, southeastern regional manager for CCC, says she has never encountered a community-driven project of such magnitude in her years of educational sales. She praises the large parental turnout at planning meetings as well as their involvement once the network was installed. CCC has even designated Woodlawn Elementary as a model school site for Kentucky. Pope hopes that will inspire other schools to implement computer-assisted curricula, and perhaps drive state legislation for increased technology funding. "We want to be a model of the community of the future, enacted today."

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.