Looking into the Digital Future: Carlisle's Designation Will Allow the District to Invest in Software and Teacher Training, with a Big Emphasis on Data-Driven Decision-Making. (District Profile)

Article excerpt

Upon winning a high profile, $4 million state technology grant earlier this year, the Carlisle, Penn., school district unwillingly landed in the pages of others' science fiction fantasies.

Many people have imagined Carlisle will turn into some technological Disneyland rife with gadgetry--perhaps an android.

"What we are really doing is a lot of R&D," says Gerald Fowler, the Carlisle superintendent, noting that hardware purchases are not where most of the money is going and most new programs are starting small. So the android is out, but Carlisle plans to undertake some 28 different technological initiatives during the next few years, turning more than a few fantasies into reality.

Carlisle's winning proposal suggests investing heavily in software and teacher training to ultimately free schools from such fetters as time and location. The district is trying to develop a Web-based school system, offering virtual academies, textless courses, online tutoring with real teachers, and a portal for parents to go straight to the teacher's grade book.

Carlisle, serving a racially and economically diverse student body, was one of three chosen by the state out of a pool of 77 to receive the two-year Digital School District grant. The state hopes the grants will help make these districts the most technologically advanced in the country and provide some blueprints for other districts, says Jodie Daubert, state Department of Education deputy press secretary. "The goal of the contest was to think out of the box, ... to take these districts to the next level."

Carlisle, Quaker Valley School District and Spring Cove School District were selected for their ability to execute the proposals, because each one is expected to evaluate their programs with the aid of a research institution, serve as mentors to other districts, maintain a Web site detailing progress (www.carlisleschools.org, click on the Digital School District icon), offer tours and form alliances with high-tech companies.

"TECHNOLOGY-CRUNCHING"

Carlisle is used to visitors due to other high-profile programs, so Fowler says interested educators should not be shy. The superintendent predicts that out of all of the projects the district is currently developing, the one on data-driven decision-making will have the most profound effect on students. Daubert agrees. Teachers, who once could only really account for what had been taught, can now have the ability, through data-crunching computer software programs, to accurately and quickly, sometimes even instantly, assess what has been learned. Starting this fall, kindergarten through high school math teachers, trained this summer, will use the software.

Another big initiative is to create Internet access for everyone. Carlisle plans to install equipment, such as computers and scanners, to seven sites in the community, and by spring of 2002 directly link to each household when the Web portal comes online.

Next spring a $9.57 million addition to the high school will be completed. Including a digital conferencing center, a broadcasting studio, and unlimited scalable broadband communications capability, it will open up information sharing and communication to all 11 school buildings as well as shared information processing by the community. The district is also arranging to lower the expense of Internet access for residents as well as provide low-cost loans for those who want to buy computers.

This increased access is needed for many of the initiatives, such as virtual courses. The district plans to launch five of them this fall and hopes to expand to 10 in the next year. Virtual courses will consist of online work and assignments as well as guidance by teachers through chat sessions and e-mail. Fowler says he has seen a trend of students accelerating through their studies so fast that they go on to college work by sophomore year. …