Audit says county schools lost edge in technology

June 29, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


technology in the school

Forty years ago, Washington County established itself as a leader in use of technology in schools by introducing instructional television.

"Washington County did many, many innovative things," said Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction.

Over the years, however, the county "lost a little bit of that competitive edge" when it came to innovation, she said.

An audit of the school system's curriculum last year found technology efforts in schools to be "disjointed and ineffective," with no planning on how it should be integrated into the curriculum.


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"The school system lacks a comprehensive plan for the use of technology as a teaching and a learning tool, thus limiting its potential," the audit said.

The report said computers, for the most part, are add-ons used for drill and practice.

Tia Waltemire, 18, who graduated in May from South Hagerstown High School, said, "There are computer rooms, but they don't have much more than typing programs."

"I want to know about the computer. What makes it work, what doesn't make it work," said Shamika Edwards, 18, another South High graduate.

The availability of technology is not consistent, according to the audit and school officials.

For example, Northern Middle School recently installed a $54,000 state-of-the-art IBM computer lab, thanks mostly to money it received through a state reward for performance in standardized test scores.

Less than a mile away at North Hagerstown High School, where most Northern Middle students eventually will go, computer instruction takes place mainly on Apple IIGSs, machines last built six years ago.

"These computers are outdated and limited in their ability to function as teaching and learning tools, especially at the secondary levels," the audit said.

All of the county's high schools still use typewriters to teach basic keyboarding skills.

While the audit praised the school system for its efforts to build a computer network among schools, it noted that access is limited by a lack of equipment.

At North High, there is just one computer, located in the school's media center, available to all students to use for Internet access. During a recent visit, it was broken.

The audit also cited confusion over who has overall responsibility for monitoring the district's technology plan.

A committee currently studying technology issues in the schools wrote, in a preliminary report, that "we do not see that ownership or overall responsibility for technology resides with any one person, and this could have a negative impact on our efforts."

The committee recommended that the school board create a position of director of technology services.

Another report commissioned by the school board this year again found technology services that "are not clearly unified," and called for more uniformity among schools so that all students, regardless of background, have equal access to computers and other technologies.

Like other areas of instruction, the technological instruction has suffered from a lack of funding, school officials said.

School board member B. Marie Byers said part of the funding problem has been the absence of a grant writer to seek technology dollars from outside the community. Private foundation funding helped build the instructional television program, she said.

"We missed out on a lot of opportunities and grants outside of the budget process," Byers said, adding that the system now has a staff grant writer.

Even with the money to buy new equipment, parents and school officials said teachers and other staff aren't adequately trained to use it.

"You can have all the hardware, but if the teachers don't know how to use it, what's the point of it?" said Jenny Belliotti, president of the County Council of PTAs.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said he would like to see a freeze on computer spending, with the money concentrated on training.

"If we continue to spend on equipment and not train, the kids will never get the benefits of new technology," Bartlett said.

Stuart L. Mullendore, director of administrative services for Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust, and a member of the technology committee, said solving the problem is difficult because technology is constantly changing.

"The challenge is it's a moving target," he said.

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