Grant helps schools teach Distance Learning

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Distance Learning is to be available at all Marshall County schools in the near future, according to an announcement made at the school board meeting on Nov. 17.

Nancy Aldridge, the Board of Education's grant writer, asked the board to formally accept a Rural Utilities Service Grant of $271,122, which will be used to add distance learning capacity at the elementary and middle schools.

Distance-learning classrooms are already being prepared in all three County high schools, thanks to a Perkins IV Reserve Grant.

The Rural Utilities grant requires a $35,000 local match, and Aldridge plans to request that the County Commission take this out of the school system's fund balance.

The grant will cover teacher training as well as equipment.

In a memo to principals, Aldridge wrote, "The distance learning stations will be mobile and will not require a separate classroom. Stations will have, among other things, a large mobile cart, a 60-inch flat-screen TV, a DL camera, and a videoconference box."

Aldridge lists some of the uses for the equipment. These include tutorials, virtual field trips, collaborative exchanges with schools in other states and countries, career education, parent training, student news team broadcasts, access to college classes, professional development with national presenters, exploratory foreign language courses, and ACT preparation classes.

"This equipment will open doors to the world for our students," Aldridge concluded.

She said the community can also use the equipment, and anticipated it might be useful for "parent training, emergency management training, government committee meetings, joint sessions with prospective businesses/industries, town meetings with state/federal officials, joint civic meetings, and many other things."

"It can be a huge positive for many years," said board chairman Mike Keny. "Thank you for all your work."

Aldridge supported the grant application with letters from public officials including Bart Gordon, Eddie Bass, Bill Ketron, Joe Boyd Liggett, Mike Wiles, and Greg Lowe. Educators James Dixon of the Tennessee Technology Center and Dr. Janet Smith of Columbia State Community College also wrote letters of support, along with board members Keny, Kristen Gold and Ann Tears, and board attorney Chuck Cagle.

Later in the meeting board member Curt Denton shared some complaints he has heard about Internet access at Cornersville High School.

"Our filters are stronger than what the state recommends," Denton said. "I don't know why we need this. Let's hold the teachers accountable and loosen it up."

Denton also pointed out that technology director Suzanne Ingram only has three people to service the whole system: "a request (to unblock a site) might take days."

Interim director Roy Dukes responded that the Lightspeed filter had been turned off, and Ingram added that Cornersville has had fiber optic cable for six weeks, both of which should speed up students' use of the Internet.

"All this information is new to me," said Ingram. "Mr. Edens (the CHS principal) has not brought it to my attention."

"I plead for your patience to let us finish wiring," she added. She explained that her technology department is still wiring the last of the schools, and this should be fnished by the end of March, if not sooner. They do look at the "tickets" (requests for repairs, etc.) every morning, and do at least the most urgent jobs before returning to the wiring project.

Once the wiring is finished, Ingram said, she will "get all that taken care of."

"We need an on-site person at each school for the technology," said board member Craig Michael. "I hear issues from every school I visit. We've got to find a way to help Mrs. Ingram have a person at each school."

"Spending this kind of money, we should be getting praise," exclaimed Denton.

When asked about training the teachers in using the new technology, Ingram said, "We have a ways to go with that." The basic training has been done, and more has been requested.

The board agreed to set a curriculum/technology committee meeting and discuss the computers in schools issues again in December.