Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Covington Schools gain on computers

Big improvement since district got poor state review

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The Covington School district will spend as much on technology by the end of this school year as it did in the eight previous years combined.

        That will be a marked improvement for a school sys tem that was cited for being among the worst in the state in providing and using computer technology in education.

        An April 1999 Technology Review conducted by the state's Office of Education Technology said Covington Schools were among the bottom fifth of all schools in maximizing technology. It said the school system did not have enough computers for students and was falling behind in using computers in everyday teaching.

        The technology report was obtained by the Enquirer from the state Education Department under an open records request. It showed there were few computers in classrooms or in school computer labs in Covington. It also showed:

        „Only a few of the dis trict's 325 teachers had pursued and received any computer training, and few were using computers as teaching tools.

        „None of the teachers had or used e-mail and few schools had access to the Internet.

        Since that report, federal and state grants have helped the district purchase 600 new computers, upgrade the technology and train more teachers to use them.

        For the 1999-2000 school year, Covington Schools will have spent $1.5 million on new technology, wiring, equipment and training. That is nearly equal to the $1.7 million the district has spent since 1992 on computers and software.

        The extra training and technology has helped teachers like Lois Mullins, a 21-year veteran, become computer gurus.

        “It's been real motivational for me and the kids,” Mrs. Mullins said. “We're really learning how to use the computer.”

        Mrs. Mullins teaches her second and third grade students how to use spread sheets, make graphs and use the Internet. They also use computers for research projects and reports.

        Those are the kinds of things David Couch, who conducted the initial technology review, saw Monday, when he visited Covington Schools again for a follow-up review. Mr. Couch said the district has made tremen dous improvements. Here's what he found:

        „There are I-Mac computer labs in every elementary school. The rainbow-colored computers lend a festive air to the labs, where students spend at least 30 minutes a week doing research on the Internet or bolstering other skills through a variety of computer programs.

        „Each elementary school and at Holmes Junior High, students used DVD I-Macs and digital cameras for special presentations, projects and nascent school newspapers and newsletters.

        „Holmes High School and junior high gained two large computer labs of at least 60 new Compaq PCs.

        „Each classroom had at least one Internet-capable computer as well as three or four computers available for word processing and software use.

        „Nearly 40 teachers have participated in continuing training to help integrate technology into classroom teaching.

        High school students can pursue a four-semester computer networking certification program that will earn them college credits as well as national network associates certification by Cisco Systems, the largest computer networking company.

        Roger Svoboda, who teaches web design and electronics at the Chapman Vocational Center, said he already has 90 students signed up to take next year's computer networking class for college credit.

        Other students signed up to start a districtwide computer help desk.

        Kenton County Schools offer a similar program, which will give students national certification from Nortel Networks.

        Mark Carle, the technology coordinator at Latonia Elementary, said the improvements in technology use at the school are nearly 100 percent.

        “Last year, we had only a few computers available for use in the lab,” Mr. Carle said. “Teachers didn't use them because they didn't have the knowledge.”

        Now the computer lab is constantly booked.

        Latonia Elementary students say they love using the new computer equipment. Their school newsletter is a testament to their passion: Full-color graphics and digital photos accent stories and tidbits of school news.

        The technology picture in today's Covington schools is a stark difference from what Mr. Couch saw in his April 1999 visit.

        At that time, he noted a higher-than average student-computer ratio of 11 to 1. The state average was 8 to 1.

        Also, teachers and administrators were not using e-mail and other computer technology and less than 5 percent of classrooms had Internet access.

        That is partly because the school system didn't have the funds and it didn't take advantage of some matching grants, officials said.

        “People don't realize how expensive it is,” said John Snow, Covington's technology director. “The wiring at the Holmes campus cost half a million dollars.”

        The district has since dropped its student-computer ratio to 5.7 to 1. There is a computer for every teacher and nearly every classroom has a phone.

        Mr. Snow said he wants more computers in the classrooms. He wants to hire a technology resource teacher for each elementary school, to help teachers use technology in their regular lessons.

        Greg Bingman, the technology coordinator at Holmes, said more classroom computers will only enhance student and teacher computer capabilities.

        “We've been a little slow getting up to speed,' Mr. Bingman said. “I felt like we were behind for awhile. But now we're catching up.”


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