District Wide Web

By Brett Schaeffer — October 01, 2002 27 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Darryl La Gace refused to let his working-class school system fall victim to the digital divide. His innovative solution has paid off.

Leaders of the Lemon Grove School District in Southern California have put their own spin on that old real estate adage, the one about “location.” If the question is how to improve instruction for 4,600 students in a cash-strapped K- 8 district, their answer is, “Innovation, innovation, innovation.”

The man who practically invented the mantra is a 39-year-old named Darryl La Gace (rhymes with “face”), a Lemon Grove alumnus. Ten years ago, he suggested that district officials use a $164,000 surplus in the general operating budget to build, of all things, a microwave transmission tower. Eventually, he told them, it would allow schools to share a wireless Internet connection.

Imagine, in 1992, what this must have sounded like. “We knew what microwave ovens were,” recalls Becky Riedel, president of the Lemon Grove Teachers’ Association and a special ed teacher in the district since 1979. But most folks, back then, knew nothing of the Internet and had little experience with computers. La Gace might as well have been asking the district to build him a rocket for a trip to Mars.

Instead La Gace, who’d been working out computer kinks in Lemon Grove’s financial systems, had a vision. He was proposing more than the simple creation of a wireless Internet connection. He intended an entire revamping of the school system: computers integrated into the curriculum and teachers, kids, and administrators connected to a network run by the district with tentacles reaching city hall, the fire department, community centers, and the homes of students.

And it was all going to start with the tower.

Thin metal rods rise to a narrow point twice as high as the nearby district’s one-story central offices. Attached to the rods are megaphone-shaped transmitters. Peeking only a few feet above the palm trees surrounding it, the tower doesn’t look like much from a distance, but—without assistance from wires or cables—it connects six of the district’s eight schools, as well as Lemon Grove’s city hall and two community centers, to an internal computer network and the World Wide Web. The network is called LemonLINK, and it includes the district’s two other schools, hooked up through high-speed fiber lines. In a deal with the city, the district has a free pass to run fiber lines throughout the community, which enables nearly every public facility, from the local recreation and senior centers to the fire department and the soon-to-be built library, to plug in to LemonLINK as well.

An alumnus of Lemon Grove schools, Darryl La Gace now oversees the district’s tech operations.
—Steve Goldstein

A few blocks from the district’s central offices, a smaller version of the tower sits atop San Altos Elementary School, thus allowing students in Erin Wible’s 2nd grade class to conduct online research for their reports on prominent figures in American history. San Altos, like nearly all of Lemon Grove’s schools, is a no-frills affair: a one-story masonry building divided into wings overlooking small courtyards. A few palm trees offer slivers of shade at the edges of the parking lot on this sunny day in May. Inside Wible’s classroom, 8-year-old Joshua Bush is researching Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger shortstop who, in 1947, was the first black player admitted to the major leagues. With three weeks left before the school year ends, Wible’s students are scrambling to finish their assignments.

Wible’s class is a melting pot representative of the district. Named for the fruit farms that populated the region early in the 20th century, Lemon Grove is a working-class suburb of 26,000 residents that covers four square miles. (Eight miles due west is San Diego.) The student population in the district is 34 percent Latino, 34 percent white, and 22 percent African American. The remaining 10 percent covers various ethnicities, including Indian and Asian. Nearly 70 percent of the kids receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Joshua has scattered an armload of books about Robinson across one side of his desk, and he’s using the computer on the other side to toggle between a text version of his report and an online encyclopedia. Although he’s computer-savvy, Joshua prefers books when it comes to research. “That’s what I’m used to,” he explains.

This seemingly innocuous statement reflects a major point of concern for some researchers, such as Lowell Monke, a professor of education at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. His work is often cited by the U.S. Alliance for Childhood, one of several education groups that rail against the use of computers in classrooms by questioning the educational benefits and raising concerns about health risks and costs. Monke claims that the efforts made to maintain and update computer skills have “nothing to do with learning content.” He’s working on a book, he adds, about “the misplaced faith schools are putting in technology to try to improve learning.” The money spent on computers, he says, should instead go toward integrating music and arts into the curriculum and programs such as peer and after-school tutoring.

La Gace’s biggest challenge was to lay the groundwork for a new culture—one of innovation.

La Gace, who is the district’s director of information services, has heard this before. Ten years ago, after he suggested building the tower, many of Lemon Grove’s 200 teachers were confused by the idea. They’d had other plans for the $164,000 surplus, such as buying supplies—or, better yet, increasing salaries. And many didn’t even know how to use a computer keyboard, let alone that egg-shaped plastic thing some were calling a “mouse.”

But the blond- haired, blue-eyed La Gace—who fancies wearing pressed shirts and stylish ties— is a persistent man. He wasn’t too worried about the minor details; in time, everyone would learn how to operate a computer. The bigger challenge was to lay the groundwork for a new culture, one of innovation that would permeate every level of the district, from classroom to administrative office to student home.

Oh, and one other thing: It would have to provide some kind of calculable payoff. Ten years ago, two-thirds of Lemon Grove’s students were scoring below the 50th percentile on state standardized exams for reading and math. Greater access to technology resources would have to help raise those numbers.

A few blocks from San Altos Elementary, past quiet streets lined with modest ranch houses, Angie Johnson is supervising her class of 5th graders at San Miguel Elementary. She’s whirling around the classroom, peppering kids with questions about the U.S. Constitution. Like San Altos, San Miguel is connected to LemonLINK via microwave transmission. Johnson—using a projector attached to her computer—displays the text of the Bill of Rights on a screen at the back of the classroom. Focusing on Article V, she reads aloud while circling students’ desks.

“‘Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,’” she recites. “What does that mean?”


“Suppose your friend is on trial for killing someone, and your friend is found not guilty. Can they be put on trial again for the same crime?”

“No,” the students reply.

As is the case in all Lemon Grove schools, the kids-to-computers ratio in Sandee Tessier’s class is 2-to-1.
—Steve Goldstein

Johnson scrolls down to her own comments, written in language accessible to 21st- (as opposed to 18th-) century 10-year- olds. What she’s done is paste the text of the Bill of Rights into a Microsoft Word file so she can add notes. And the file is visible not only on the large screen but on the screens of the 15 computers shared by 23 students. Earlier today, the 5th graders viewed a Web site detailing the lives of the Constitution’s framers. “It was about the parts they played in history and in the drafting of the Constitution,” Johnson explained. That lesson served as a precursor to this one, and together they get Johnson’s students thinking about the events that led up to the Revolution, and the reasons why the country needed a Constitution.

Lemon Grove’s technology revolution had its own framers, namely La Gace and Barbara Allen. As principal of the district’s Palm Middle School and a former teacher, Allen was already promoting the benefits of classroom computers when a microwave tower was first suggested. “Darryl’s the visionary,” she says of La Gace, who’s uncomfortable talking about himself or taking credit. He’s quick to point out, however, the help he’s received from Allen, who now serves as project director of LemonLINK.

In 1992, she went to bat for him. As Becky Riedel, president of the union, recalls, most teachers back then did not question the value of creating a districtwide network. “We already had some early Apple computers,” she says. But they didn’t understand why the tower was so important. So the union facilitated what Riedel calls “fact-finding” sessions about it and La Gace’s overall vision. In response, La Gace and Allen outlined a five-year plan detailing the tower’s use, particularly the goal of connecting all schools to the district network. The next five-year plan, they knew but weren’t yet sharing, would be more ambitious: It would supply Lemon Grove students with computers.

Back at San Altos Elementary, Sandee Tessier’s kindergartners are busy working on a project of their own: making “books” that display the life cycle of a butterfly. If this were a typical class anywhere else, you’d see bunches of 5-year-olds ankle-deep in crayons and construction paper. But Tessier’s 20 students have computers at their desks, which are arranged in groups of four, with two kids per computer. These configurations—called “pods” by Lemon Grove techies—exist in every one of the district’s K8 classrooms.

To create the books, Tessier used PowerPoint, the Microsoft slide-show-style program in which photos, text, illustrations, and video can be blended together. These books, however, are relatively simple. By way of example, Tessier pulls up a “page” that shows an illustrated image: a green caterpillar poised on a tree branch that’s sprouting a few leaves. One of the leaves has been chomped on, and at the top of the page is a one-sentence explanation, with a key word missing: “The caterpillar _____ the leaves.” It’s up to each student to fill in the blank.

What computer books do, according to one Lemon Grove teacher, is reinforce group lessons on an individual level.

What computer books do, according to Tessier, is reinforce group lessons on an individual level. Typically she makes a “big book"—roughly the size of a movie poster—from construction paper and leads the class through a reading exercise. Then she shoots digital photos of the pages and adds them to PowerPoint, through which each “little book” can be viewed individually. “It gives them another source,” she says. But Tessier, like many of her Lemon Grove colleagues, stresses that computers are merely tools. “Valuable tools, but tools,” she says.

This perspective troubles computer critics such as Monke, who doesn’t believe teachers actually control the “tools” they use. Classroom technology, he says, carries a lot of baggage. “From matters of security, to shifting emphasis in teacher inservice, to shifting funds in the budget, computers make demands on schools the moment they enter the building,” Monke argues. “Most of those demands detract from education rather than contribute to it.”

That may be the case in most school districts, where the costs and training time associated with conventional PCs and their support services are formidable. But the Lemon Grove model, according to La Gace, is different—or at least it’s become that way over time.

Back in 1992, hoping to add resources to classrooms, Riedel and most of her district colleagues backed the construction of the microwave tower and the first five-year plan. To show its support, the teachers’ union landed a technology grant for a small portion of what would eventually be more than $5 million in state and federal monies for Lemon Grove’s technology initiatives. Early on, Riedel recalls, a handful of teachers were opposed to the plan, but even naysayers, such as teacher Sally Ahern, ultimately gave in.

Ahern arrived in the district in 1993, the first year the tower was up and running. “I was afraid,” says the now-43-year-old, referring to the technological changes taking place. She was also skeptical, worrying students would do nothing but play video games on the computers. And at first, that’s all they did. Gradually, however, Ahern became more comfortable with the new technology. Like all Lemon Grove teachers, she was assigned training sessions Allen had designed. Groups of approximately 60 teachers continue to meet during the school year and in the summer.

A 6th grade math and science teacher at Lemon Grove Middle School, Ahern is now a self-proclaimed PowerPoint junkie. Before the start of the 2001-02 school year, she volunteered to create an easy-to-understand visual representation of the school dress code. Students don’t have to wear uniforms, but there’s a list of no-no’s: hats, T-shirts promoting drugs and alcohol, bare stomachs, and excessively baggy pants, for example. (And, this being Southern California, flip-flops and sunglasses are specifically mentioned.) Aside from the written code itself, Ahern’s PowerPoint presentation includes photos and illustrations of the offending attire, so there’s little room for debate.

Of course, Ahern’s students are computer users too. As lunchtime approaches on a sunny day in late May, her science class is winding down. Students exit the programs they’ve been working in and pack their book bags. Eleven-year-old Deja McGough is casually perched on her seat, one foot tucked beneath her, the other dangling above the floor. Logging off her computer, she explains that she was just working on a biome project—a collection of photographs and background text on life forms in a specific geographic region—in PowerPoint. Deja recently missed a few classes because of illness, but she didn’t fall behind. Spending a recent afternoon at one of the school library’s computers, she says, put her back on track.

La Gace confesses he wasn’t absolutely sure, 10 years ago, exactly how he’d make use of the microwave tower. Or if he could really pull off establishing some kind of semi-wireless network affordable enough to put Lemon Grove on the technological map. But as someone who’d attended school in the cash-strapped, resource-strained district, he was determined to make a difference.

La Gace was actually born in Northern California, where his father was a life science professor at the University of California-Berkeley. When La Gace was just 9 years old, his dad, 42, passed away from complications of diabetes. So his mother moved them to Lemon Grove, where she had relatives. La Gace finished elementary school, then headed to Lemon Grove Middle School and, finally, Mount Miguel High School. He was in the marching band and, early on, showed an interest in technology—two sure signs, in other people’s view, that he was a geek. But La Gace had another reason for feeling like an outsider: The lifestyle to which he’d been accustomed when his father was alive didn’t seem to exist in working-class Lemon Grove. “We [had been] uprooted from something nice to a situation where we had to settle,” he explains.

La Gace feared that the mostly poor and working-class students in Lemon Grove would be left behind in the technological revolution.

In 1982, he graduated from high school and began on-again, off-again stints at Grossmont Junior College and San Diego State University. But higher education didn’t seem to hold as much interest for him as business did. In high school, La Gace and a classmate had started an amplifier circuitry outfit, which, by the time he was 19, earned him enough money to put a down payment on a house. That job was soon followed by one setting up computer networks for San Diego law firms.

Making money, however, was not enough. La Gace, who is single, was hoping to have a direct impact on his community. Knowing that a technological revolution in the nation’s public schools wasn’t far off, he feared that the mostly poor and working-class students in Lemon Grove would be left behind. So in 1985, he took a job with the district as a computer maintenance worker.

“Early on, my focus was on supporting the financial systems, but I quickly said, ‘You know, this is something we can farm out. Why don’t we spend this budget on the classrooms and start to get tech in the schools?’” recalls La Gace, who now lives in nearby Point Loma. “That’s when I really started taking a look at what we needed to do to connect schools, to get schools wired.”

By 1997, La Gace and Allen’s five-year plan had come together nicely. Each classroom had one computer, used mostly by the teacher. Rather than dealing with stacks of daily schedules and notices stuffed into front-office mailboxes, they and the administrators were using email and electronic calendars, according to Allen. And as their skills improved, she says, teachers grew interested in adding technology to the curriculum.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Nationwide, tech money, coming primarily from state and federal governments, was flowing into school districts, Lemon Grove included. Because the district was already connected—thanks to the tower and high-speed fiber lines—the stage was set for Lemon Grove’s next big push: filling each classroom with as many PCs as the incoming grant money would allow.

The cornerstone of La Gace and Allen’s next five-year plan, a blueprint that would carry the district through the 2001-02 school year, was to achieve a student-to-computer ratio of 4-to-1. That meant roughly eight computers for each classroom. It was an ambitious goal; even today, the California Department of Education recommends only a 10-to-1 ratio.

“We were proud of this plan,” La Gace recalls. “We got funding for it, and 18 months into it, we were installing traditional [desktop] computers.”

But La Gace and Allen soon discovered that simply throwing PCs at students wasn’t much of a plan. “We created a three-ring circus for a classroom,” he recalls. Teachers had to figure out how to get 32 kids to share eight computers every day—because that was the district’s expectation. Another hurdle was faulty equipment. “With eight independent computers on a network, I can guarantee you at least once every two weeks somebody’s going to have a problem in their classroom,” La Gace explains.

So he’d guessed wrong. Rather than stick, and perhaps sink, with the desktop model, La Gace abandoned the plan midstream. He decided at the end of the 1998- 99 school year—one year into the new arrangement—to forgo the PCs (though the district would keep those already installed) and try something new.

To stem costs and expand access, La Gace turned to ‘thin clients’ in place of PC’s. The switch has paid off.

By the late 1990s, the computer industry had developed “thin-client” technology. Compared with the “fat” PC, this new setup featured a paperback- book-sized device with a microchip processor and a network connection that sits next to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. It has no hard drive, no disk drive, no CD-ROM capability. All information is processed through the thin client and stored remotely on powerful servers. This small device is fairly inexpensive— $200, compared with roughly $1,200 for a desktop unit—and is much easier to maintain, according to La Gace.

Because of the cost difference, Lemon Grove would be able to increase student computer access dramatically. And maintenance was no longer an issue because all heavy lifting would be done on the server end, where problems can be handled quickly without technicians needing to work on each individual PC. If a thin client burns out, it simply gets replaced, says La Gace.

The new plan has paid off. Today enough thin clients have been added to Lemon Grove classrooms to establish a districtwide 2-to-1 ratio of kids to computers—a number that doubles La Gace’s initial goal.

Jeff McNaught, vice president of market strategy for the San Jose-based WYSE Technology Inc., recalls getting a call from La Gace four years ago. Until then, putting his company’s technology—WYSE makes thin clients—into schools had rarely even been discussed. Now WYSE has thin clients running in half a dozen school districts from California to Florida and one in the United Kingdom. This new market was born in Lemon Grove. “They were bold and aggressive,” says McNaught. “Darryl knew they weren’t going to be able to do it with PCs.”

Other districts have followed suit. Conroe Independent School District, in Texas, recently installed 1,700 WYSE thin clients. Scott Barrett, Conroe’s director of technology, says he was able to set up a 30-station computer lab in a matter of minutes rather than spending several days installing PCs. “This meant our students could immediately get to work using the new computer terminals,” he notes.

The 2-to- 1 ratio in Lemon Grove means the district has a total of 2,300 thin-client setups, each comprising a screen, keyboard, mouse, and processor. La Gace admits, though, that thin clients aren’t perfect. “You’re not going to be able to edit or play much video,” he says. “But 90 percent of the applications we deliver"—which include Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, email, and various tutorial programs—"work just fine on this,” he adds, tapping a thin client on his desk. “And that’s the focus. That’s the increased access.”

The schools are not LemonLINK’s only beneficiaries. The fire department, a senior center, and Lemon Grove’s community and recreation centers are linked to the network as well. And La Gace helped establish phone and Internet services for city hall. Christine Taub, Lemon Grove’s finance director, says that, before the school district intervened in 1996, the local government offices had no email, no office automation, no internal desktop communication. “We had a lot of people shouting down the hall,” she recalls, laughing. Today residents can pull up the town’s Web page (which Taub maintains) to view council meeting agendas and apply for business licenses, among other services.

This hyper- connectivity of the district has not gone unnoticed. In 1999, Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates singled out Lemon Grove during the American Association of School Administrators annual conference. He praised the district’s “digital nervous system,” which, as he pointed out, allows students as young as kindergartners to use “word processing and presentation software to help them learn early reading and writing skills.”

Now that access is no longer a problem in Lemon Grove schools, La Gace is focusing on what he calls ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning environments.

While most folks in Lemon Grove found Gates’ comments flattering, classroom- computer critics balk at his recognition. First of all, they point out, Gates and Microsoft should be pleased—it’s their software that’s being used in the classrooms. And Joan Almon, coordinator of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood, asks: “Do we think it will help children to spend yet more time in front of a screen? Not at all....Instead of encouraging children to be active, we encourage them to spend ever more hours sitting still.” In addition, she says, the technology being used in schools today will be obsolete long before those kindergartners graduate; the real focus should be on creativity and imagination, which are prerequisites for innovative thinking.

La Gace is way ahead of Almon. Now that computer access is no longer a problem in Lemon Grove schools, he’s implementing the next five-year plan, which focuses on what he calls “anywhere, anytime” learning environments. That means, among other goals, getting network connections into the homes of students. But this latest hurdle may be La Gace’s biggest challenge. To get the program started in 2001, the district had to do more than think creatively; it had to change state law.

Until last year, California’s school code allowed a district to sell or lease any of its property not being used for educational purposes (vacant land, for example) to the highest bidder. Lemon Grove sought to eliminate the bidding and school-use provisions because La Gace, in an ongoing partnership with tech companies, intended to offer parents the chance to buy or lease the thin-client system and a high-speed cable connection, thus allowing students the same access at home as they had at school. While some families already had computers, the only way the district could ensure online security and access to its network was through the thin-client setup. In other words, home PCs couldn’t connect to LemonLINK.

With the help of state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego, La Gace got his wish. In the summer of 2001, the California legislature passed a measure allowing districts to sell computers at cost to parents in order to connect their kids to the district networks. As part of a pilot program, Lemon Grove was already offering families of students scoring in the bottom 10 percent of the Stanford9 exams the entire thin-client setup and a high-speed cable connection free for one year. So far, 280 kids have accepted the offer, which still stands.

The rest of Lemon Grove’s students are offered the same setup at a slightly discounted rate of $29.99 a month, plus a $50 deposit. The money goes to the district, which then pays Cox Communications, a local cable and Internet provider, and WYSE. By comparison, the cost for most high-speed home Internet access—only the connection, nothing more—typically runs between $40 and $60 a month.

The Palmers are one of only a handful of families that have signed up for the discounted home-connection option thus far. The family’s ranch house sits on a dead-end block that abuts the fenced-in athletic fields of Lemon Grove Middle School. In her bedroom on a Wednesday evening, Megan Palmer, a student of Sally Ahern’s, shows off the pictures she’s chosen for her redwood-forest biome project. With the click of a mouse, a crystal-clear image of thick, rust- colored tree trunks pops up. Next to the photo is a short description written by the blond, bespectacled 11-year-old. When asked why she chose this particular biome, she says: “I picked redwoods because I didn’t think anyone else would.”

Megan’s thin-client setup, identical to the one she uses in Ahern’s classroom, gives her access to LemonLINK, where she can find her class work, as well as the Internet. It also comes with an aggressive filtering system. After Megan logs on to the system, she can pull up, if she wishes, But she can’t establish an email address at Yahoo or Hotmail or any of the sites offering the service. She can also surf a site such as eBay, but the filter will block any attempt to buy or even bid on an item; and, obviously, pornographic Web sites are blocked. Downloading is also out of the question, mostly because it would increase the network’s susceptibility to computer viruses and software sharing violations.

Sarah Palmer, a budget analyst at the nearby U.S. Navy base, says she first thought about getting her daughter a home connection last fall, when she saw an ad on public-access television. Megan’s always been an A and B student, and the home link has helped her maintain those high marks, her mother explains.

While Megan may be an exceptional student, there are signs that the Lemon Grove district as a whole has been improving academically—at least in terms of standardized test scores. The most significant changes have taken place in the past few years, as the student-computer ratio began to approach parity. For example, in 1998, 38percent of Lemon Grove’s 2nd graders scored at or above the 50th percentile on the reading portion of the Stanford9. In 2001, a year after the district adopted the thin-client model, 57 percent of 2nd graders scored in the same range.

On the math portion of the Stanford9 the increases are more dramatic. Just 30percent of the 2nd graders scored at or above 50th percentile in 1998, compared with a whopping 74 percent in 2001. And in looking at grades 3 through 8, the results are similar: Between 1998 and 2001, the average number of students scoring at or above the 50th percentile on the math test nearly doubled, from 32 to 60 percent.

There are signs that the district as a whole has been improving academically as the student-computer ratio has approached parity.

Does this mean that technology alone is responsible for the higher test scores? Not necessarily. But Donn Griffitts, principal of San Altos Elementary, admits that he’s been surprised by the recent results. And he believes that student access to a computer tutorial program—available across the LemonLINK network—has made a difference. “It had more of an impact than I thought,” he says.

L. McLean King, the district’s superintendent, says that Lemon Grove’s innovative spirit is paying off outside the classroom as well. AT&T Wireless recently inked a deal with the district to lease use of the microwave tower for $1,000 a month, he says. Although he joined the district only five years ago, King is well-aware of the early concerns about the tower. But he hears little grumbling about its use today. “That tower has more than paid for itself,” he notes.

As far as Lemon Grove has come since 1992, La Gace feels it still has a long way to go. A network link to every student home is still a priority, and new technology is an issue. The tower, La Gace knows now, was just the beginning, the first step down a long and seemingly endless road of innovation that, each year, broadens the horizons of Lemon Grove students. Next step: mobile technology—in particular, the PC tablet. Like a PalmPilot on steroids, the tablet is, as the name suggests, the size of a note pad. Some models even have foldout keyboards. But the big difference between the PalmPilot and PC tablet is that the latter uses a Windows operating system and can run powerful software, such as video editing.

He won’t divulge names, but La Gace says that a few tech companies have given him models to test. So he’ll hand them over to teachers and administrators, then get feedback on their use in classrooms. He expects the PC tablet will not only make his colleagues’ lives easier but also be a powerful tool, one that helps students turn just about any location into a mini-classroom. And because a solid technology infrastructure has been established in Lemon Grove, he says, adding new tools is easy from both technical and cultural standpoints.

Culturally speaking, not everyone is ready to buy into the Lemon Grove model. While the district’s been visited by school officials from as far away as Singapore, most, including fellow Californians, are maintaining a wait-and-see attitude. Jim Busick, the data systems manager for nearby Santee School District, reports that his 10-school, K8 district is connected, like Lemon Grove’s, to a high-speed network that links all the schools, but each has its own technology plan. Most have about 30 PCs grouped in one computer lab, some have two labs, and a few have computers in classrooms. There’s little interest, Busick says, in changing that system, which was in place before he arrived four years ago.

The Lemon Grove model would be even harder to implement in the San Diego Unified School District, which has 140,000 students in 160 elementary, 30 middle, and 20 high schools. “There are so many pieces,” says Danine Ezell, who, as the science program specialist, supervises the network connecting the computers in the district’s high school science classes. “There is a districtwide technology plan, and it’s intended to be coordinated into the curriculum, but there are so many barriers [to making it work],” she adds. Those barriers include obsolete computers and wiring systems at some schools and internecine administrative battles at others.

La Gace says that in the past, San Diego Unified has come to him for help. He’s toyed with the idea of taking on such a challenge but is wary of being swallowed up by big-district bureaucracy. Plus, he hasn’t quite finished his work in Lemon Grove. In fact, he claims that the key to his success so far is the manageable size of the district and his familiarity with the town—proof that there may be something, after all, to that old adage: Location, location, location.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: April 17, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 20, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 13, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: February 21, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read