Should elementary schools in this country be connected to the Internet and be given the opportunity to reach out and explore the far corners of the globe? That this happened at Carminati Elementary School is the result of a district-wide planning effort involving teachers, the state legislature, the community, and business leaders. While the journey toward Internet connectivity is sometimes long and tedious, our experience has yielded rich rewards for the students and faculty of our small K-5 school in Tempe, Arizona. HOW IT HAPPENED
Six years ago, Carminati Elementary was a good school. It was successfully serving the needs of its students. The Tempe Elementary School District had already developed strategic plans to improve the quality of education for all students throughout the district. It seemed a logical next step for each school to also put together plans for improvement. The Carminati staff began to think about how they could create an even better school and provide the best education for every student.
Under the leadership of an innovative principal, teams of teachers applied skills from Total Quality Training to create a framework for change. After the 1989-1990 school year, most of the staff volunteered to return for two days of hard work. They developed a vision statement, and a mission statement, and set many goals. Specific areas of weakness were targeted for improvement; teams were formed and action plans were written. The process of reform and restructuring had begun.
Later that summer, some Carminati staff attended the Arizona Leadership Academy sponsored by the Arizona State Department of Education, and began to solidify plans for change. At the same time, the Arizona Legislature offered grants for school restructuring. Because the groundwork had been done and a plan was in place, Carminati completed an application and was one of the fifteen schools selected. Each school received funds according to its student enrollment. Over a 4-year period, Carminati received $56,000, most of which was dedicated to staff development to support and sustain technological change. Concurrently, the School Governing Board and administration of the Tempe Elementary Schools proposed a $67 million school bond to improve physical facilities. Of that amount, $13 million was earmarked to upgrade district technology. The voters supported this bond issue. Change at Carminati was assured. THE PLAN UNFOLDS
Soon after the bond initiative, an opportunity for a business partnership developed for Carminati. Motorola Corporation had been working with many schools in the state to support the use of technology to educate children. Because Carminati already had a plan to incorporate technology in the school, the timing was perfect for one of the community's largest employers to join with Carminati to work for Tempe children.
The partnership board of directors established two main goals at Carminati: 1) to foster parent and community involvement and 2) to promote the use of technology at the school. Carminati would become a model for the school district. It was due to the countless hours of technical assistance donated by Motorola and the forward thinking of many interested Tempe citizens that Carminati became the first elementary school in Arizona with a direct connection to the Internet.
This private-public partnership represented a big step forward in a continuing district effort to encourage business involvement in the district. When the Carminati plan to become a model for technology implementation in the district was presented to the Tempe Schools Governing Board, Carminati was moved to the top of the school district priority list. In the fall of 1993, a T1 line was installed. Motorola donated two servers--one for district use and another was placed at Carminati. Motorola engineers designed the layout and plan for the local area network. School district staff arranged Internet access courtesy of Arizona State University. They also installed the necessary wiring and hardware to support the local area network connecting all classrooms in the building. Each classroom was equipped with a telephone, television, and VCR, and the ability to reach laserdisc players and the satellite access in the Media Center by remote control. A school-wide voice mail system was installed. And, in December 1993, the Carminati Internet connection was officially established.
Although the bond issue guidelines had stipulated the purchase of one computer for every three teachers, Carminati asked the School Board for an exception to pilot, the effect of which was having a computer on every classroom teacher's desk. Because of a price reduction at the time the purchase order was placed, we procured additional Macintosh computers. Equipping each classroom teacher with a networked computer is a productive model that will eventually be implemented throughout the district. The networked classroom computers also enable teachers to share two laser printers, access the Internet, and keep in closer contact with parents via the voice mail system. In one two-week period, 175 parents were called by teachers, and this in a school with a population of 380 students! TECHNICAL SUPPORT AND STAFF DEVELOPMENT
Most school district employees who work in technical services are familiar with computers, tape recorders, and video cameras, but they have never been trained to install network systems or to connect routers to a global network. Formal training is needed to provide district staff with the necessary skills for continued technical support. Presently, Motorola is supplying technical support for the server at Carminati, and district technical support persons are learning to cope with many challenges. But, because of the limitations on the ways bond money can be spent, priorities must be changed within our school system to support new equipment purchased.
Just as students need time to become comfortable and competent with any new skill, teachers must be introduced, convinced, and inserviced in the advantages of using a new tool to enhance a job they already do quite well. In the fall of 1993, Arizona State University helped us get started. Doctoral students shared their ideas with us and introduced us to the mechanics of logging in and traveling around cyberspace. This workshop proved important as it encouraged teachers to begin personal learning. The presentation also represented an important first step in forming a strong and continuing relationship with the Department of Education at ASU.
Ongoing assistance has been provided by an ASU graduate student who visits Carminati to help with project plans and technical problems. In May 1994, still more ASU graduate students returned to demonstrate Mosaic to all teachers. Our resident doctoral student has constructed a Carminati home page, which will point to the many World-Wide Web resources of interest to Carminati teachers and students. Mosaic enables us to take "virtual field trips," something that may change the way many subjects are taught. From Tempe, students can "stand" in the Louvre and look at classic artwork or "walk" through the botanical gardens in Missouri or Australia and compare what they see with their own desert landscape.