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Schools Join For Training Of Teachers

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Washington--School districts in six regions around the nation have formed a teleconferencing network that will enable them to conduct inservice-training programs jointly via satellite.

The school districts, whose superintendents will join the board of directors of a national nonprofit telecommunications system, are using a $314,000 grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (ntia) of the U.S. Department of Commerce to purchase five satellite dishes, the superintendents announced at a press conference here last month.

They will begin the "interactive" teacher-training programs in September.

The school districts involved include the District of Columbia Public Schools, the Atlanta Public Schools, the San Diego County, Calif., public schools, the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles, the Dallas-Fort Worth Instructional Television Public School Consortium, and the Centex Public School Consortium (a group of 12 school districts around Williamsburg, Va.).

The program is coordinated by The National University of the Air, a nonprofit organization created by a retired telecommunications expert to develop cost-effective ways in which educational institutions and the military can use emerging satellite technologies.

The organization is one of three nonprofit groups founded in 1973 by John A. Curtis, a pioneer in the telecommunications and computer industries, who says the educational programs he has established (including the Center for Excellence Inc., called "Centex") are his way of "paying off my debt to society."

"There will be no democracy in this country unless we can improve the scope and quality of education and re-educate workers," Mr. Curtis says.

His goal is to develop a multi-media system--using standard broadcast, telephone, cable, sub-carrier, microwave, and satellite technologies--to "unite America" and reach out to those groups that might otherwise be ignored, such as minority populations and rural communities.

By "pooling interest, materials, and purchasing power, we can multiply the production of teachers," according to Mr. Curtis.

The National University of the Air selected the six districts and intends to expand the program to include other areas, Mr. Curtis says.

Teachers in the six school-district areas will be able to ask questions of panels of teacher educators who will broadcast from the National University of the Air headquarters in Williamsburg.

Proponents say the teleconferences will save money on release time and travel expenses and allow local teachers to talk to experts who, because of cost and logistics, would not otherwise be brought together.

The inservice sessions will focus on such topics as classroom management and discipline; special education; language arts; basic mathematics skills; small-group instruction; school law; and strategies and curriculum development for gifted students, according to Janis L. Cromer, director of communications for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Several of the programs have already been piloted by the Centex Consortium in Virginia, which already owns its own telecommunications equipment.

The cost to each participating school system will be minimal, Ms. Cromer says.

gram and the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program.

The grants are available to noncommercial education and public-broadcasting agencies to make capital improvements, according to Mr. Robinson. The programs were started in 1961 in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and were transferred to ntia in 1978.

"Virtually every public-television and public-radio station" has received grants from ntia, Mr. Robinson says.

Though many school districts apply for grants, the National University of the Air program is "unique," he says, in that it is attempting to create a collective nationwide network to improve the quality of instruction, using equipment placed on school property.

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