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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Prevailing Mood Says Schools Ready For Big Computer Drive

Teacher Sarann Graham didn’t hesitate the last time Spokane School District 81 asked voters to raise money for computers. She voted no.

She used computers at home and liked the idea of providing more access for students. However, the district wasn’t ready, she said.

“I didn’t think it was well thought out. No one knew the implications for the classroom,” said Graham, who teaches humanities at North Central High School. “There was a time we had, quote, technology, and it was sitting in the closet collecting dust.”

District administrators said they got the message loud and clear, from teachers as well as the public. Voters doubted the district was prepared to spend the $30 million wisely, said Joe Austin, the district’s technology director.

Teachers, for the most part, didn’t know how to use the equipment and the district lacked a solid plan to train them. And where would they go for help when a computer screen froze in the classroom, or when they wanted software advice?

In the four years since the last bond failed, Graham and many other teachers have taken classes at the Libby Center, where seven training labs have been set up.

Some teachers also became ardent supporters after administrators awarded them money from district grants to buy computers and equipment for their classrooms.

“Technology facilitators” have also been trained and hired for the six high schools to help teachers solve problems.

“If the bond passes, we’ll see a huge summertime training under way,” Austin said. “There’s no requirement, but an expectation that teachers will go to training.”

Principals will make sure of it, he said.

Dale McDonald, principal at Bemiss, said he’ll use money from the regular staff training budget. “We’ll commit a high percentage of our staff development dollars for that.”

Teachers who are computer-savvy may get stipends to teach others, he said.

There are other differences in the district’s plans this time, too. In the rejected levy, $5 million was earmarked for wiring, compared with $12 million this time.

That’s largely because each room will be wired with fiber-optic cable that can handle today’s more sophisticated computer systems, said Austin. Last time around, it was copper wiring. Each classroom will also get several outlets to handle future expansion.

The bond money would be a good start to preparing students for a computerized world - but it’s only a start, said Austin.

“The technology needs are well beyond the (money) in this bond issue,” he said. “Well beyond.”

It probably isn’t the last time voters will be asked to support tax for computers.

Superintendent Gary Livingston said he believes people will accept the responsibility.

“There is broader understanding of the need of computers in society,” he said. “Virtually everyone understands computers are a part of today’s normal life.”

At North Central, Graham has become one of the bond’s biggest supporters. She and her colleagues have loaded themselves with training at the Libby Center. She also applied for - and won - grant money to buy several computers for her classroom.

None of them are in the closet.

, DataTimes

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