Florida District Links Classroom Computers To District-Level Administrative System

The School Board of Broward County, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is comprised of 185 schools, making it one of the largest single districts in the U.S. With a growing trend in Florida toward school-based management, Broward decided to implement administrative systems based on the IBM AS/400 to give individual schools better access to information. Fred H. Kauffman, director of information services, explains: "Under school-based management, schools can operate differently and tailor their programs to the needs of the community. We needed the technology to give schools this flexibility." Preserving Mac Investment A major goal in this process was to preserve the district's existing Macintosh investment. Broward has an extensive installed base of Mac computers that are used for both administrative and classroom applications. As a solution, the district acquired NetAxcess, a gateway product for connectivity between the Macintosh machines and the AS/400 systems located in each school. School-based Mac users also use NetAxcess to communicate with the district-level AS/400 system and an IBM 3090 mainframe via Broward's distributed processing network. Within each school, a NetAxcess card connects seven Macintoshes on an AppleTalk network to the AS/400. The NetAxcess card, offered by Andrew Corp., of Orland Park, Ill., ships with all the necessary hardware and software for the Mac platform, including a HyperCard Interface (API), file transfer (ETU) capability, and IBM terminal and printer emulation. There are no switches or jumpers to set. An installer program automatically loads the correct software onto the server and networked Macs, after which users simply connect through the Chooser. Up to three cards can be installed in a Mac II family machine, providing simultaneous access to as many as three separate IBM midrange systems (System/36, System/38 or AS/400) on a single AppleTalk network. In addition, AppleTalk printers can accept print jobs from the IBM host. Cooperation Is Excellent Kauffman describes Broward's experience with the Andrew products by remarking, "The Andrew team's cooperation has been excellent. NetAxcess is a strong product that works really well." AS/400 connectivity provides schools with access to applications for maintaining student records and school-level financial and personnel data. Schools can also access a system for tracking inservice training participation by teachers. And staff members continue to use the Mac systems for such applications as word processing, spreadsheets and desktop publishing. As a result, the district has been able to preserve its investment in Macintosh hardware and software while delivering the technology necessary for school-based management. Kauffman says the benefits of Macintosh-to-AS/400 connectivity are multi-fold. "It improves the workflow in the schools. Principals now have the flexibility to distribute work among appropriate people, including the guidance counselors, attendance clerks, and administrative staff." Other Applications Planned In the future, the School Board of Broward County will expand the applications of its new administrative solution. Among those planned is the ability for teachers to input student grades and attendance directly from a Mac located in their classroom. Officials also hope to establish a link between the instructional AppleTalk network and the administrative network in each school. These links will provide better information for school management purposes and reduce the amount of data that must be re-keyed into different applications or systems. Throughout the expansion, Broward will avoid the additional cost and workspace that would have been required to use additional terminals to communicate with the AS/400s. Kauffman thinks others can move towards school-based management with as little difficulty. "Since many districts are comfortable with Macs, this is a way to get the most out of them."

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.