For a great deal less money $an setting up dial-up lines, Lee County School District linked its schools to each other and to the Internet through a Wide Area Network and Proxy Server.
Lee County School District, with more than 4,100 students in 13 K-12 schools, is one of the poorest districts in Virginia. Tucked into the westernmost corner of the state, right on the Tennessee border, Lee County has a composite index of 17 percent, mean mg the county is expected to pay only 17 percent of the cost of educating its children.
To cope with rising costs and declining state funding, the district needed an inexpensive source of teaching materials. The solution? Installing a wide area network (WAN) to link its school libraries and setting up a Proxy Server to ensure quick and economical Internet access. As an added bonus, the Proxy Server enables the schools to monitor activity and block access to inappropriate Web sites.
The district overcame its financial hurdles with technical support from Educational Technology, LLC; a WAN connection from Bell Atlantic; a technology grant from Virginia; and creative planning by a committee of parents, teachers and administrators. It obtained the Proxy Server (and Internet access) from Microsoft Corp.
In 1995, just about the time Lee County was looking for ways to connect its schools to the Internet, the state of Virginia allocated the county $350,000 for technological expenditures. There was only one catch: the school had to use the money to automate all school libraries in the district before it could spend funds on other technology, such as Internet access.
According to parent advocate Paul Elswick, a technology consultant at Educational Technology, LLC, the typical library management solution involves installing a local area network (LAN) running K-12 library management software in every school. The problem with this strategy was that two K-7 schools in Lee County have fewer than 100 students. "It's not very cost-effective to put a LAN in small schools that don't have many books to start with," says Elswick.
Instead, the district investigated establishing a WAN that would tie all the schools together. In the past, Bell Atlantic had partnered with Lee County to set tip fully interactive fiberoptic classrooms that connected its two high schools to a community college, enabling an instructor to teach students at all three sites from a single location. Lee County officials determined that a traditional leased-line WAN from the company would exceed their budget. However, when Bell Atlantic installed a public frame-relay WAN for Southwest Virginia, the district signed on as the first customer at a significantly lower cost. Bell Atlantic also installed wiring to connect every building in the county Over a WAN.
Because all the school libraries were to be linked by a WAN, the district needed to find a client/server library tracking system. Officials found the available systems for WANs to be either too difficult to manage or too expensive, so Elswick contacted Alan Hughes, a Microsoft Certified Product Specialist, to develop a client/server library management software system from scratch. Hughes provided the technical expertise, and Lee County media specialists provided the library science background.
In developing the application, Hughes suggested that Lee County make its public-access library catalog a Web page on the Internet and on the district's intranet. That way, the schools could still use their numerous older Personal computers, which couldn't handle client software, to access the school libraries through simple Web browsers. "Any computer that can run a browser can have access to all 13 of the libraries from anywhere in the school system," notes Hughes.
District personnel next had to tackle the matter of setting up Internet connections for all the schools. Prior to the WAN, schools relied on a few dial-up accounts, which could not efficiently accommodate a large number of users. …