Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Network for a School of the Future

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Network for a School of the Future

Article excerpt

In 1987, the K-8 Garfield Elementary School in Revere, Massachusetts, was a racially segregated school, an over-crowded, aging facility in a changing neighborhood. The student population was 70% Southeast Asian. In all other sections of the city, the school-age population was over 95% white.

There was a clear need to racially balance the Garfield school and that presented us with an opportunity. The Massachusetts Department of Education offered the city of Revere 90% of the funding needed to replace the existing building with a much larger school. The idea was simple: Address the problem of segregation at Garfield by building a "magnet school" with a program so desirable it would draw in new white students from other parts of the city.

We could have chosen any program as the magnet. The concept of magnet schools to achieve racial balance has been successfully tried in other cities using special arts or foreign language curricula, for example, but we decided to concentrate on information technology. We were convinced that the basic skills children will need in the 21st century will include the ability to access, analyze and communicate information from and on electronic sources. Furthermore, we believed that Revere parents would be supportive of a technology-based curriculum.

* Gateway to the District

And so it has proved. For over five years we planned for and built a school with technology at its heart. We also took advantage of the computing capabilities based at the Garfield school to build a computer network that serves the city's entire school system. Our goal was to establish an "information utility" similar to electricity or phone service. The system connects all aspects of education on a single network and can be called upon as needed by students, teachers and administrators.

It is an "open" system--because of its design, we can accommodate any new technology that comes along. Users can access online databases and educational networks through the Mass LearnNet, which connects us to the Internet. We can communicate with like-minded educators across the country. We can bring satellite-delivered programs into the classroom or explore applications of interactive video. We have purchased laptops and micros for teacher use and for homebound students, the latter of whom will be able to communicate with their teachers and keep up with assignments and tests. In the future, we hope to offer access to parents and the community at large, who will be able to log on from their homes as well as from the public library.

The main computer at Garfield, a VAX 4000-200 from DEC, acts as the electronic hub for a highly decentralized yet integrated system. All administrative, curricular, library, communication, instructional and information-processing applications are available across the network. Even more exciting, the wealth of instructional programs purchased for Garfield can be downloaded and used by other Revere schools. The network serves six elementary schools and one high school with a total student enrollment of 5,000.

And the magnet idea worked. The James A. Garfield Community Magnet School, which opened with its full electronic menu in September of 1992, has 1,400 students, about half from white and half from Southeast Asian families. We now have more applicants than we have places.

* Building an Information Utility

Our planning for the school's technology began long before building blueprints were drawn up. We studied our teaching, learning and management needs; defined our objectives; and wrote specifications with the help of educational research and technology planning staff from the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT), a nationally-based, non-profit firm. CELT staff and Revere educators worked closely with the architects and vendors to ensure that what went into the building would be cost-effective, adaptable and serve us far into the future. …

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