Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2001

District reconsidering NetSchools program after fact-finding tour

October 18, 2001

De Soto school district officials are having second thoughts about the NetSchools Inc. laptop computer program after visiting Pennsylvania and West Virginia schools using the system.

The district school board voted to make the wireless NetSchools laptop program the district's classroom technology system.

Board member Rick Walker, district technology director Doug Weis, curriculum director Doug Powers, teacher Ed Wilcox, deputy superintendent Sharon Zoellner and Superintendent Marilyn Layman made the trip hoping to gain insights on how to introduce the new technology system into the school district, but instead they discovered the program's many faults.

The group presented its findings at Monday night's school board meeting. Board member Rick Walker said "it wasn't the big wow" he expected.

"The kids were doing the same things our kids are doing," Walker said.

Computer teacher Wilcox added his impression. "The laptops are just an extension of what we have."

Several team members said they thought the laptops would still be useful in the district, but not the programming that comes with the computers.

Powers added another concern.

"The software for NetSchools duplicates some of the things we already do," he said. "There could be conflicts."

Those programs include Orion and Blackboard, technologies that aid in teaching and providing staff development, Powers said.

Technology director Doug Weis said there could be some unanticipated extra costs.

"There could be additional costs with retraining on the new e-mail system," he said.

Weis explained the group's change of mind with a car-buying analogy.

"We know we want to buy a car, we need a car, we see one and like it, so we invest the time to look at it, we get in and the seats aren't comfortable and there's no leg room so it's not the car for us," he said. "This trip was my test drive; it's a better car for someone else."

The group's conclusions left several board members frustrated. Jim Thomas said he was expecting the group to support the system.

"NetSchools as a whole package appealed to me," he said. "So, I'm really surprised how unimpressed you were."

Layman said she remained hopeful the district's review of the NetSchools program would prove beneficial.

"We know a wireless solution is still critical, maybe just not this one."

She also added that she expects the school district will need the same amount of money it would have spent on NetSchools, but it will be used differently.

Board member Bill Waye said he would like to see the issue more critically discussed.

"I would like to see a well-thought-out list of all the things good about NetSchools," he said.

Layman said the group planned to set aside two days to research options. It will present its findings to the board at a later date.

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