Focus on what’s working in Idaho classrooms

In the hustle to reach political conclusions about the Idaho Education Network and the service it provides, I’m hearing the wrong question too often.

Lawmakers and critics of the state’s broadband initiative are asking “How much?” But what they should be asking is, “How?” As in, how can we make the best use of this incredible system, to benefit our students and our communities?

The recent headlines about the use of video conferencing equipment by schools misses the point. Too many people are forgetting that we’re in the midst of a transformation of our school system. Change doesn’t come fast, or easy. But we shouldn’t turn back the clock on our schools just because of political maneuvering. Instead, it’s time to work together to help schools take advantage of the tools they now have available to them.

Take it from me, this isn’t easy. In 2010 we became the first district in Idaho to require online learning for students to graduate. We partnered with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy so that students could make good use of the IEN.

In conjunction with the IEN we also partnered with other school districts to provide students from each school with a tremendous increase in dual credit (high school/college) class offerings. Since that time we have offered over 15 additional dual credit classes per year and have had hundreds of students earn college credit. This is a tremendous monetary savings to our students and parents.

Because our state had the wisdom to provide this service, schools in rural areas now have the opportunity to learn at the same pace – and perhaps even beyond – than our urban counterparts. And it’s working. In 2014, the IEN’s data shows that the demand for bandwidth from schools is growing. Students across Idaho took thousands of college credits over the IEN, giving these kids a leg up in a changing world.

Our goal is for our students to use this technology to communicate in ways that are most meaningful to them. That means doing what it takes to teach our staff and our students to work together in new ways.

To do all this, our district is grateful for the partnership we have with Education Networks of America, the telecommunications service provider that delivers service and supports the IEN. ENA’s support staff and team of engineers make all this possible, and we’re grateful to have their help and counsel.

That’s why it’s frustrating to see others pointing fingers and jumping to conclusions about a system that is showing great promise. Instead of trying to make political hay, we ought to be focusing on what’s working in Idaho’s classrooms, and how we can all work together to improve usage of the Idaho Education Network.

Here in eastern Idaho, we’ve seen the advantages the IEN can bring. Our students aren’t willing to turn back the clock. I hope political issues won’t put an end to all that’s been achieved by districts using this service.

Alan Dunn is the superintendent of the Sugar-Salem School District.

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