California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 37, No. 3
April-May, 1997

Desert Sands Unified School District's Award Nomination--A Closer Look

Honor: A closer look at the district's technology planning and events.

Dr. George Araya, Desert Sands Unified School District

Editor's note: The last issue of The DataBus featured a lead article about the Computerworld Smithsonian Award nomination received by the Desert Sands Unified School District for their accomplishments in technology. This month presents an expanded look into the district and the events surrounding their nomination.

The Celebration

Desert Sands Unified School District wants to make their nomination one of the most outstanding events in the history of our region. Because of their nomination many other districts in the nation are considering Desert Sands Unified School District design as the model for their own implementation. During the week of April 28 to May 2 Desert Sands USD will have hands-on seminars that will help others in their technology projects. On May 1st we will have a seminar for all school districts in California that want to review the awarded technology implementation. Some the sessions will be directed by Riverside County Office of Education and two sessions from the State Office of Education. The main emphasis of these sessions will be: minimum components for successful grant applications, State plans for school technology implementation, and an overview of State plans for future technology implementation.

On May 2nd we would like to conclude the week with "Future of K-12 Education and Technology" forum by the CEOs of the companies and possibly Mr. Pete Wilson, California Governor. The companies included in our network and invited to participate are Microsoft, Kodak, Cisco, 3Com, Allied Telesyn, View Tech, Meridian, New Technologies, Pentamation, Microwave Bypass, Applied Computer Systems, and Ansi. The Computerworld Smithsonian Awards program will give recognition to the Board of Education on that day.

Description of the Project

The main focus of our technology project was to design a computer network for transmitting data and video that could serve 23 schools and over 20,000 people with $5 million over a five-year time period. The challenge was to deliver high speed that would enable students and teachers to spend more time learning and teaching than waiting for the computer.

In June 1993, after thoroughly researching what networking strategies were available, we decided to use microwave technology. Through microwave we can transfer data at 10 million bits per second for the computer network, full motion video/audio for video conferencing, and voice for telephone. Microwave technology proved to be more reliable, more cost-effective, faster and easier to maintain than leased telephone lines. Another advantage was that after five years, the microwave equipment would be paid for without the recurring fees experienced with lease lines.

With the cooperation of Riverside County, the first six microwave links were installed in Indio in February 1994. These links, constructed by Microwave Bypass Inc., of Braintree, Mass., connected the easternmost and westernmost schools, and connected the resulting network to the central microwave repeating site at Riverside County's Larson Justice Center in downtown Indio. By April 1995, 19 links were in place and all district sites were on line, with e-mail and the new student management software in operation.

A six-city metropolitan microwave network allows every classroom and office in the Desert Sands Unified School District access to a variety of high-technology applications at high data transfer speeds. Students and staff have access to the Internet at speeds of 10 million bits per second, which allow them more time to work on projects or teach classes rather than wait for a slow network connection delivering data to their computer. Most analog telephone lines take five to 30 minutes to download one page of information, whereas our network takes only seconds. Students and staff also have access to shared technologies such as our fully loaded Kodak imaging center, a Kodak high speed printer capable of printing 92 pages a minute, Meridian CD towers, students and financial programs and important district information on our internally networked servers.

Because of the high data transfer speeds of microwave equipment, we were able to implement such highly sophisticated and network-intensive software applications as the following:

  1. A student management system (Pentamation) that consist of student registration and demographics, discipline tracking, daily and class attendance, class scheduling, mark reporting, graduation requirements tracking, transcripts and student information snapshot.
  2. A financial management system (Pentamation) that consist of purchasing, on-line requisitions, warehouse inventory and fixed assets.
  3. A student lunch program that records the number of students that order meals and to determine the amount of free lunches. Prior to the automated system, cafeteria personnel conducted the daily task by hand.
  4. Transportation software, designed to route buses and control bus schedules.
  5. Facility planning and work order processing systems, which will enable district personnel to track service repairs in a timely manner
  6. Meridian CD towers, which store collections of on-line references including encyclopedias, class notes, foreign language learning programs as well as specific software programs
  7. Full, unlimited Internet access

All of these services, together with the resources of a fully functional Kodak digital imaging center at La Quinta High School, can be accessed from any networked computer at any district site.

While the network installation was in progress, staff training began. Each school sent four teachers to a computer class where they were trained on how to build a multimedia computer cart and how to incorporate multimedia into their curriculum. The teachers built their computers from pieces: they installed the motherboard and drive cards, loaded multimedia software, connected a Laserdisc player, connected an LCD panel for an overhead projector and learned how to troubleshoot IBM-compatible computers. Once they completed their multimedia computer carts they were trained on how to prepare multimedia presentations, including multimedia lesson design and incorporation of the design into their lesson plans utilizing CD-ROMs and Laserdiscs. After the training, teachers took their multimedia carts to their schools and began sharing their knowledge with their peers. On-going personnel training continues for all district employees. The original goals that were established at the onset of the technology plan have been met. The entire district is networked and every teacher and employee has Internet access and standard software. Our microwave metropolitan area network is fully operational. Schools and administration offices are all on-line. Every teacher has at least one computer in his classroom, connected to the network. Approximately 20,000 people are receiving benefits of the microwave network. Students, teachers, classified personnel, counselors, administrators and libraries have access to the Internet, e-mail, and Microsoft software. Students and teachers are taking advantage of the communication possibilities and working on many different projects. The computers are becoming one of the best tools for improving the teaching and learning in the classroom.

The future plans are the most important consequences of the accomplishment of this project. Because of the caliber of the network we have tremendous opportunity to become involved in truly incredible projects. For example:

  1. The Eisenhower Medical Center is connecting their network to ours via microwave. The Desert Sands Unified School District will provide Internet access to all employees of the medical center. The microwave video link between the hospital and our district will allow live video communication for our classrooms. Classes related to health will have the option to integrate sources from the medical center into the curriculum.
  2. Some teachers of college-preparatory classes will teach for one school while students from the other high schools will attend through video. The live video communication will allow students to participate actively in those classes without being in the same classroom.
  3. A full integration of surrounding businesses and school-related curriculum activities are planned to begin the next academic year. The chambers of commerce from the different cities are working toward this goal. Our World Wide Web page has links to the major businesses surrounding the district.
  4. The intranet is in operation and permits schools and classrooms to create their own projects that include distant learning, web pages, student projects, on-line lessons for students, a database of lesson plans in different subject areas for teachers, a database of best web sites for teachers, and on-line information for parents. Parents will soon have access to our intranet to check student assignments, grades and school activities from their home computers. Students will be able to post their assignments for their teachers from home.

Dr. George Araya is Technology Coordinator for the Desert Sands Unified School District. He can be reached by telephone at (619) 775-3500, by Fax at (619) 775-3542, or by e-mail at . Desert Sands Unified School District's website is at www.dsusd.k12.ca.us.

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