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Chapter 2
Educational Service Delivery

This chapter reviews the educational service delivery system of Venus Independent School District (VISD) in the following sections:

  1. Student Performance
  2. Instructional Resources
  3. Gifted and Talented Education
  4. Compensatory Education
  5. Special Education
  6. Bilingual/English as a Second Language Education
  7. Career and Technology Education
  8. Library/Media Services
  9. Student Discipline and Alternative Education Programs
  10. Computer Technology


J. COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

The Texas Legislature has long recognized technology’s importance in education and administrative support. In 1987, the Legislature directed the State Board of Education to develop a Long-Range Plan for Technology. This plan called for the establishment of a statewide electronic transfer system (TENET), expansion of integrated telecommunications systems (T-STAR) and a center for research in educational technology (TCET).

Subsequent legislation has created funding to help districts meet the state goals for technology. The technology allotment provides approximately $30 per student per year in state funding for technology. House Bill 2128 of the 1993 Legislature created the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF).

This fund derives revenues from the Telecommunications Utilities Account and the Commercial Mobile Service Providers Account to provide $150 million in grant funds each year for 10 years to public education, higher education and telemedicine centers for computer infrastructure, distance learning and training.

Another grant fund that is available to public school districts is the Technology Integration in Education (TIE) grant, which provides funding for teaching and learning, educator preparation, administration and support and technology infrastructure. This state-level focus on technology in education has allowed some of even the smallest school districts to develop state-of-the-art computer networks and computer labs. VISD, its four peer districts, 32 other districts and seven colleges worked with Region 11 in a cooperative effort to receive a TIE grant to establish a distance learning program through the Region 11 Telecommunications Network (RETN). The RETN allows VISD students to take advanced math, science and foreign language courses. In addition, the RETN allows students to take dual-enrollment courses. To date, 34 students have completed dual enrollment courses and received college credit prior to graduating from high school.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 includes provisions for schools to receive special rates for telecommunications services. VISD qualifies for an 80 per cent discount on basic phone service, data circuits and Internet service.

VISD has a technology coordinator who oversees the district’s technology program and the campus technology coordinators. As a former language teacher, the technology coordinator understands the classroom needs of the teachers and works with them to solve their problems. The technology coordinators at the schools are teachers, aides or other members of the school staff. They receive a stipend for work as technology coordinators at their individual schools. The backgrounds and interests of the VISD technology coordinator and the technology coordinators at the individual schools enable the technology staff to understand and concentrate on fulfilling the needs of the students and teachers.

The VISD technology committee members come from administration, the classroom, library, the district staff and the community. To ensure that the VISD technology plan they developed was complete, they reviewed the Texas State Long-Range Plan for Technology; the State Board of Educator Certification: Technology Applications Standards for All Teachers; and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The school board approved the plan on February 20, 2003.

Technology programs progress through the following phases: needs assessment, design and maintenance. The needs assessment phase determines the feasibility, value and the expected outcome of a potential program. The design phase consists of preparing plans and the acquisition costs and maintenance cost of the potential program. The maintenance phase involves the continued support and evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. All evaluations are tied to outcomes contained in the needs assessment.

The VISD is connected to the Internet by a T-1 data line capable of transmitting 1.5 million bits of digital electronic data every second, which is 24 times as much data as a typical telephone line. Region 11 provides this line and it is connected at Venus High School. The middle school is connected to the high school by a fiber optical cable. The primary school, elementary school and the district offices are connected to the high school through a wireless communications link.

To protect the district from computer viruses, the Technology Department has anti-virus software on all computers and servers. In addition, all e-mail coming into the district must pass through Region 11 where it is scanned for viruses. The region strips the e-mail of any virus and passes the message on to the district.

Each school has a secure computer server located on site for storing data that is backed-up daily onto a tape. In addition, a weekly backup is made the last workday of the week. An annual backup is made at the end of the last school day for the year. All backup tapes are stored off site to ensure their safety.

In 1998, VISD had only a few Mac computers for use in the Special Education Department. In 2003, the district has 11 computer labs with 226 computers, 32 computers in the libraries and 426 computers in classrooms. With an enrollment of 1,871 students, the district has an average of 4.3 students per classroom computer, which is close to TEA’s School Technology and Readiness (STaR) recommended ratio of 4 or less students per computer and only slightly higher than the state average of 4.1 students per computer.

VISD evaluated the current status of technology within the district by using TEA’s Texas School Technology and Readiness (STaR) program developed by the state Educational Technology Advisory Committee. The STaR program helps determine a district’s progress toward achieving the goals outlined in the four key areas of the Texas Long-Range Plan for Technology. Exhibit 2-30 provides the results of the VISD self-evaluation and shows how VISD compares with Region 11 and state averages.

Exhibit 2-30
VISD Technology Progress Scores and
Comparison with Region 11 and State Averages
2002-03
Long Range Plan for Technology Key Areas Teaching and Learning Educator Preparation and Development Administration and Support Services Infrastructure for Technology
VISD* 8 7 11 8
Region 11 Average Score** 12 12 12 12
State Average Score* 12 12 11 12
Maximum Possible Score** 24 24 20 20
*Source: VISD Technology Plan, 2003, and Texas STaR Chart, 2002.
**Source: TEA Texas STaR Chart Region 11 Summary.

FINDING

VISD allows teachers and staff to improve their technology skills. Additionally, the district consistently upgrades Internet connectivity and expands the availability of computers for student use.

The results of STaR self-evaluation show that VISD ranks highest in the administration and support services areas. This is due to the district’s Internet connectivity and speed, as well as the district’s Local Area Network/Wide Area Network. These two items allow VISD to reach higher levels of technology and attain the goals of the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology. Future applications for state-funded technology grants will request a completed campus or district Texas STaR Chart profile to be filed with the application as an indicator of current status and progress.

VISD has used a variety of funding sources to buy computers and associated training for the teachers, administrators and staff. The district applied for and received a number of grants from the TIF Program. Exhibit 2-31 shows the amounts of the TIF grants received by VISD and the peer districts.

Exhibit 2-31
Amount of TIF Grants Received
VISD and Peer Districts
1996-97 through 2000-01
District Number of TIF Grants Received Total Amount Received
Dublin 5 $326,013
Godley 5 $316,040
Grandview 4 $690,000
Rio Vista 4 $757,003
Venus 5 $401,889
Peer Average 4.5 $522,264
Source: http://www.whattifhasdone.org.

These grants enabled VISD to move from below the state average of students per computer to almost equal to the state average in just five years. The funds have been used to pay for online technology training for all middle and high school teachers. The district added its own funds to extend this online technology training to all primary and elementary school teachers. This online training called, “Learn at Gateway” provides intensive instruction in many different software applications. Employees are required by the district to meet minimum program training requirements in Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint. However, employees may continue to take additional courses until the end of the program. This program, which began in August 2002 and is available through August 2003, provides teachers the opportunity to receive instruction, demonstrations and critiques in a self-paced format that can be completed at their convenience. This flexibility allows the training to be completed at a time convenient to the employee rather than having to conform to a rigid formal training schedule.

COMMENDATION

VISD initiatives provide all teachers and staff members the opportunity to improve their technology skills, upgrade the district’s Internet connectivity and buy computers for student use to achieve key focus areas in the Texas STaR Program.

FINDING

The VISD has implemented several innovative programs to improve the use of technology in the classroom. The elementary school campus technology coordinator was one of two teachers from the VISD selected to participate in the “Teach to the Future” program sponsored by Intel Corporation. After receiving complimentary training and equipment at Intel Corporate facilities, these teachers are training 20 VISD teachers per year for the next two years. To make this training more effective, an experienced teacher who understands TEKS and curriculum is teamed with one of the newer teachers who usually have a broader range of computer skills. This teaming concept facilitates the cross-transfer of experience between the two individual teachers and enhances the learning experience for both. This effort works toward two of the VISD technology plan goals: goal two “continued staff development for integrating technology into existing curriculum” and goal three “meeting the needs of professional staff development for integrating of the emerging TAKS.”

The middle school technology coordinator has reconfigured old computers that were no longer being used to provide resources for a new science class computer lab. Refurbishing the older computers enabled the students to use the CDs that came with the new science books. This reuses excess equipment and allows full use of the new science texts to enhance science learning. This effort works toward the eventual satisfaction of goal one: “increase the student per computer ratio in the classroom from 20 students per computer to four students per Internet-connected computer” and goal four in the VISD technology plan: “provide all students with proper instruction and access availability in advanced technologies and usage.”

The high school multi-media class uses its computer technology to prepare a videotape every morning that contains all of the announcements and notices for the day. This announcement is played over the school TV system so that every student sees and hears the announcement simultaneously. This use of computer technology enhances the learning experience by giving the students a real world application as opposed to a more traditional classroom exercise. This application works toward the eventual satisfaction of goal four: “provide all students with proper instruction and access availability in advanced technologies and usage.”

The distance-learning lab at the high school allows the students to take dual credit courses. This provides students an opportunity to experience the collegiate environment and earn college credits prior to graduating from high school. Of the 34 students who have taken dual-credit courses, 31 students have continued their studies in college. This application works toward the eventual satisfaction of goal four: “provide all students with proper instruction and access availability in advanced technologies and usage” and goal six: “continued support and upgrade of the existing wide area network to provide enhanced performance, reliability and scalability.”

COMMENDATION

By providing continued professional development for the faculty and innovative learning opportunities for the students, the VISD classroom and technology staffs are working to achieve the goals stated in the district’s technology plan.