County schools develop Web sites, computer labs

By Julie Fann
Star Staff
jfann@starhq.com

  
The world became much smaller for Carter County elementary and high school students this past academic year. The schools may be "tucked away in the hills of Appalachia", but now, people around the world, assuming they have access to the Internet, can access school information and communicate with students and faculty.
   Better late than never, according to Victoria Stevenson, technology coordinator for the Carter County School System who is also a former teacher and a subcontractor for IBM computers for school system use. "We've just been using the state-provided e-mail, so it was definitely time. It's taking awhile, even now, to educate all of the teachers how to use it fully," Stevenson said.
   Using county dollars and a federal Educational Technology Grant with an initial outlay of $20,000, county schools in January installed a Web server and e-mail server, and technology coordinators at each county elementary and high school began to develop their school's Web site.
   Also, the school system used funds from the Niswonger Foundation, a partnership of area businesses based in Greeneville and started by Scott Niswonger, CEO of Landair Corporation, to create portable, laptop computer labs for Happy Valley High School and Cloudland High School. Teachers from those schools will assist Hampton and Unaka High School teachers in implementing their own portable labs next year with remaining dollars.
   Web sites were developed using software through School Center, a template system that allows teachers to easily build Web pages without computer programming knowledge or HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) skills.
   The labs each have 30 laptop computers that run the Plato learning program, a computer curriculum for language arts, math, social studies and science to help students meet Gateway exam requirements and prepare for the TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) test. "It's sort of like a tutorial and sort of like an augmented curriculum," Stevenson said.
   County schools recently received results from a technology survey named E-Tote which determines the number of computers in county systems and then compares them to state statistics.
   "We have 1,446 computers in the county system. We rank about average with other school systems around the state," Stevenson said. However, approximately one third of all computers in Carter County schools are operating below state standards.
   "Several schools are still using 25 megahertz computers from nine years ago. They're still using them, but they can't use them for some of the latest programs that are coming out," said Stevenson.
   Hampton and Unaka High Schools has had no computer lab system at all due to lack of space and, formerly, lack of funding. The school system plans to install the new laptop system for use in August and will train teachers during inservice.
   This summer, workshops will also be held to continue educating teachers at area schools to use the new laptop computers as well as build web pages.
   Karen Lyons, media specialist for HVHS, said the Plato learning program has boosted student test scores on Gateway exams and TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) tests.
   "It's been wonderful. We actually have some statistics to show improvement from the time they started each program. It does student reports which show gains, and we've seen gains in certain grade levels in subjects," she said.
   Stevenson also mentioned that students can now receive training and certification in Microsoft 2000 software. Students are presented a certificate at a regular school board meeting to recognize their achievement.