Rural District's Partnerships Bear Fruit in Three Years

DR. DENNIS JENSEN, Superintendent Wayne Community Schools Wayne, Neb. Traditional school district boundaries, concepts and clients are no longer the dominate paradigm in Wayne, Nebraska --an American heartland. Through a unique collaborative effort, the scope of the district’s curriculum now includes the world. The community effort is fired by contributions from Wayne State College, Wayne Community Schools, Wayne Chamber of Commerce, Wayne City Council, the mayor, private businesses, federal and state agencies, and especially from the students themselves. The payoff is a powerful technological foundation that has enabled the district to offer services such as e-mail, graphical search mechanisms, fiber-optic speed, audio/video online capabilities, "take-home" computers, public library access to the Internet, staff training on curriculum and technology integration, automated libraries, automated school lunch program, central office telecomputing, tech-prep curriculum and much more. The most impressive aspect of the Wayne Community project, however, is its time span. In just three years, a rural school district in a town of 5,000 people was able to develop a multi-faceted technology service with over 330 networked workstations for 950 students -- beginning with $50,000 and the existing 26 Apple IIe’s in 1992. Back in the Beginning The motivation for moving the district in the direction of being a regional leader in technology began with its school board. At a regular meeting in the fall of 1991, a state review committee reported a lack of hardware and software use throughout the district. The panel recommended serious attention be directed at creating opportunities for students to learn about technology. In 1992, the superintendent organized a city-wide technology committee. They were to: set a technology vision for the district; establish goals in curriculum scope and sequence; evaluate software and hardware needs in every field and student service area; and, develop a timetable with which to measure status and success. Committee members were representatives of private business, Wayne Chamber of Commerce, Wayne State College, Nebraska Department of Education and the school district. They met throughout the summer and in the fall of 1992 gave a comprehensive program recommendation to the Board of Education at a meeting in October. Initial Steps Among the recommendations were: A 3:1 ratio of students to computers; A K-12 computer curriculum (separate from other fields); Industrial arts to industrial technology restructuring; Automation of the district’s three libraries; Distance education development; A networked computer lab; and A hardware purchasing plan focusing on IBM-compatible workstations. After approving the recommendations, the district was off and running. The board earmarked $50,000 in 1992 for seed money for costs of the initial stages. Combined with general fund dollars (the total district budget in 1992 was just over $4 million), the board’s investment grew to $75,000 and specifications were drawn for a 25-station computer lab in the high school to replace the typing room. During the bidding process to build the lab, Dennis Linster, director of Network Services with Wayne State College, shared his idea with the superintendent. Linster asked him to hold any bid openings until he could arrange for a summer-session class for graduate students entitled "The Wayne High Computer Lab." The course’s objectives were to design, implement and install the high school’s computer lab. This initial involvement of the college opened the doors to an unparalleled relationship between the school district and college that continues today. Past the Basics: What Next? By August of 1993, the district had 25 networked computers installed in the new computer lab with a central server located in the high school’s library connected via a 16 mbit Token Ring network. The cost savings enjoyed by the district was phenomenal -- because graduate students completed the physical labor -- estimates in savings ranged from $12,000 to $25,000. Participating graduate students benefited from the experience and transferred the knowledge back to their own districts. Although the computer lab represented a monumental step for the district, it was only the beginning of a collaborative atmosphere that blossomed. As the lab neared completion, the Board of Education wrestled with a new school budget. From the funds not spent the previous year, they transferred $101,000 into the new Technology Fund. Cost savings to build the lab were phenomenal because graduate students completed the physical labor; estimates in savings ranged from $12,000 to $25,000. The district retained its focus on the technology plan adopted in 1992 and began the following projects: Automating the middle and high school libraries; Building a tech lab in the industrial arts area of the middle school; Fully computerizing the central office and bookkeeping system; Expanding the Token Ring network in the high school and adding computers; Adding a CD-ROM tower to network; Providing training for staff on the network and Internet-access instruction; Automating a lunch ticket accounting system; and Implementing a distance education system in the middle and high schools with donations from Wayne State College and private businesses in Wayne. As the system grew, Dennis Linster was a constant resource for project development and design. Since the size of the system was becoming taxing on available volunteer time, Linster recommended the district consider the services of a talented college student majoring in computer systems operation. Mike Eckhoff, a Wayne High graduate in 1993 and a college freshman, became the primary supervisor of the technology implementation plan. A high school senior, Trevor Schr'eder, became Eckhoff’s assistant. The district hired Eckhoff on a part-time basis to be technology director. Schr'eder continued to donate his time to the district in order to gain first-hand experience in network operations. Distance Education Activities A distance education project started in the fall of 1993 with financial support from Wayne businesses and from Wayne State College Foundation. The project’s goal was to embellish the high school Spanish III course by having a two-way, audio/data/ video link in real time with a school in Juarez, Mexico. The distance education mode chosen was a simple telephone line connected to a computer, a VCR camera and a speaker, allowing an interactive course to be team taught between two sites. Faculty training was provided by TSN, Inc. in Boiling Springs, Pa. and by the Pennsylvania Department of Education on the campus of Wayne State College and at Wayne High School. Teachers from Wayne were furnished with training as were teachers from Juarez and Cancun, Mexico. The distance education failed due to problems in Mexico, but a second undertaking was started in the middle school with grades 6-8 using videophones attached with schools in Japan. In March of 1994, a third distance education activity began with funding from the National Science Foundation and leadership contributed by the Nebraska Department of Education, Division of Technology. Through the guidance and assistance of then-director Melodee Landis, the just-released Windows version of CU-SeeMe software (developed by Cornell University) was tested as a beta project in Nebraska between the Wayne and Omaha North High Schools. The project had technical problems initially. But in further tests, the DOS version of CU-SeeMe worked well for site-to-site distance education applications. The benefit Wayne schools reaped from the distance education project grants was hardware and software allowing simultaneous access to Internet from all networked workstations. The district remains actively involved in pursuing distance education projects, especially those using the Internet as the connecting link. Spanish instruction is still provided through a satellite downlink for grades K-3. A "Lighthouse" District Shines In the summer of 1994, the district was chosen to receive a $91,000 award from U.S. West. This regional telephone company sought school districts committed to technology for the purpose of developing "lighthouses" to serve as models throughout the state of Nebraska. The award was directed to the 1992 technology plan and, with various installations, enabled the district to: Bolster the number of K-8 workstations; Network both middle and elementary schools to the Wayne campus with Ethernet and Token Ring topologies; Create a network topography for possible ATM applications in the future; Purchase 20 laptop computers for fourth graders to take home and use for assignments. The Board of Education, in the summer of 1994, also earmarked $60,000 for computer technology needs in K-12. Additionally, the board had the foresight to permit the high school Industrial Arts department to convert to a tech-prep lab with funds provided through a lease-purchase program. The principle reason for the board’s interest in restructuring the Industrial Arts curriculum relates back to a 1991 NCA/state department review. The report indicated only 8% of students participated in the Industrial Arts program, while 28% of the high school’s total facility space, as well as two full-time instructors, were devoted to it. As a result of the newly implemented tech-prep program (and the positive influence of other factors such as faculty support of curriculum change), the 1995 student enrollment in the Industrial Arts program was about 37% of the high school student body. Finally, the fall of 1994 saw: Fiber-optic cable linking the buildings on the Wayne campus together -- all networked computers are driven by a Novell server and a Linux machine for e-mail and Web publishing, which are located in the high school library; The middle school library automated; A staff development program instituted by the building principals allowing substitute teachers to be hired for staff training on technology applications during the school day; Training on WordPerfect 6.0a for the high school business teacher, Sharyn Paige, in Omaha, Neb., with funding provided through Northeast Technology Community College in Norfolk, Neb.; A networked computer in the teachers’ professional library in the high school (a gift from Complete Computers, a local business in Wayne, Neb.


); Battery back-up system and network support technology provided through a gift from Wayne State College; Established an audio/visual laboratory for students to develop commercial-quality video productions like animated cartoons; digitizing video equipment; morphing capabilities; video and audio editing equipment are all networked to the central Novell file server in the Art department; Have 250 workstations networked to servers in the high school library from three different buildings in Wayne; and Have own Linux server for assigning e-mail addresses. Since March of 1994, the district has enjoyed frame-relay access to the Internet. Nebraska was one of very few states that supported such a statewide network for the purpose of enabling students with Internet searching opportunities. The Wayne district was one of the first to have classroom-based access to the Internet. WayNET Adds Links to Community The Chamber of Commerce and the city were curious about the Internet. How could access to it provide benefits for rural economic development and community growth? The Chamber established a strategic planning committee to study providing access to the city. Over an 18-month span, committee members administered a community survey on computer use at home; they held several informational meetings at various sites; they sponsored speakers on other communities’ Internet experiences. Finally, they submitted a grant to the state department of Rural and Economic Development in the area of telecommunications and were successful in receiving $2,500. These grant dollars were used to begin developing a new community service entitled WayNET. Its purpose is to offer Internet opportunities to all citizens of Wayne, Neb. WayNET is administered by a committee composed of the mayor, city administrator, network services director with Wayne State College, Educational Service Unit technology director, the technology director with Wayne Community Schools, and the school superintendent. In September of 1995, the city council directed $14,000 to the WayNET project, which was applied to expanding the telecommunication services of the school district. With 16 remote-access lines connected to a T1 line within the Nebraska frame-relay system, patrons living in Wayne can search the Internet at their leisure. The school district’s technology team trains all interested community people on how to access the remote system using the computer lab in the high school. This remote-access course is offered through an adult education class, a function of the extension services of Northeast Community College, in Norfolk, Neb. Instruction is provided by Wayne State College and Wayne High School students, who are paid for their services by Northeast Community College. Participants in adult-education classes are given access to the high school’s remote telecommunications system for an indefinite period of time for only the cost of the class registration. The district operates an elementary school in Carroll, Neb. (14 miles from the central server) and is in the process of installing eight remote lines for K-4 elementary Internet access, bringing the total community access lines to 24. This Internet access is a collaborative effort involving a state college, a community college, a state agency, a city council, a local chamber of commerce, a special education service agency (ESU), city administration, college and high school students, and a local school district. These agencies are working together for the purpose of efficiently providing a service to the public that would be difficult to replicate at such a reduced cost by any one member entity alone. Fortunate, But Also Smart The community of Wayne has been extremely fortunate. It has had the right people in the right places at the right time as it developed technological services for its children and the broader community. A critical factor in the success of the overall project is the cooperation of the faculty and staff of the Wayne Community School District. The faculty yearned to bring in as much technology integration as money would allow and they were eager to learn. The district also benefited in the training of its staff by being able to use students from the college and consult with college administration on implementation issues. Without the willingness and support for technology improvement from the faculty and staff, the project would not have enjoyed such success. Dennis Jensen has been superintendent of Wayne Community Schools since 1991, and was chosen at least partly for his rich background in technology. In 1980, the district for which he served as a chief school administrator had the first networked PC lab; in '84 that same district was doing distance education via PCs with sites in japan and Mexico. And his doctorale dissertation was a comparative study on distance education models and vehicles used in public high schools nationwide. Jensen’s role in the Wayne district’s new model, therefore, was to be a catalyst to make it happen. E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.