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Spools of Wire and a Mission: NetDay Founder Turns Up the Heat

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Local school officials might choose to ignore the national NetDay planned for this October, said John Gage, but NetDay won't ignore them.

Since the success of the original NetDay96 in California in March, Mr. Gage, one its co-founders, has become an aggressive crusader for the volunteer effort to wire schools for access to computer networks. He estimates that as many as 41 states will join in the expanded national version of the "electronic barn-raising."

Schools that don't participate will be held accountable, Mr. Gage said. He plans to post on the Internet's World Wide Web the names of all the school board members in the nation and note whether they took part.

That brash tactic by the 53-year-old science director at San Francisco-based Sun Microsystems Inc., which makes computers and software for commercial and technical computing, could spur some school leaders who only now are becoming aware of the event to sign up. But it may also anger administrators who favor different approaches to acquiring school technology.

Mr. Gage, who like co-founder Michael Kaufman, a San Francisco radio executive, was active during the 1960s in organizing protests against the Vietnam War, believes his cause justifies turning up the heat. "The school without access to the Web is out of it," Mr. Gage said in a lengthy telephone interview from his home in Berkeley, Calif.

He sees the Web as a breakthrough technology that can help citizens make sense of the welter of governmental jurisdictions that affect them.

'Community Knowledge'

Mr. Gage said he realized the need for such a tool about a year ago, after a neighbor on his quiet street was shot and critically wounded.

He said he posted a notice at a local soda shop and "the next day on our lawn we had about 50 people." He asked them to mark on little maps all the violent incidents that had occurred within a five-block radius during the previous year.

"People marked down about 70 different locations," Mr. Gage said, yet few of the residents knew about incidents that happened more than a block from their homes. By "accumulating the community knowledge," he said, "suddenly we had a unified community" that successfully pressured local leaders to improve street lighting and to step up police and citizen patrols.

The World Wide Web, Mr. Gage said, has that same ability to bring people and information together. "Anyone with a $1,000 computer and a phone line can run a Web site."

Some education leaders, while supporting NetDay, fault Mr. Gage for distrusting school officials. "His assumption is that school boards don't want to cooperate," said Cheryl Williams, the technology director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.

Mr. Gage acknowledged that NetDay is creating tension among school officials, but said it's for a good reason: to prod them to act. "All we're trying to provide here is new sources of support, from someone [they] don't know."

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