Chicago Aims to Revamp Education

WASHINGTON (04/21/2000) - Chicago Mayor Richard Daley this week unveiled a sweeping plan to assure that students in all city schools graduate prepared to handle technology jobs of the future.

It's estimated that the approximately five-year initiative will provide the Chicago Public Schools, the schools of the Chicago Archdiocese and the City Colleges of Chicago with a billion dollars in high-tech training, infrastructure and equipment.

And unlike other communities that have lavished technology perks on individual schools, Chicago aims to take on all its schools simultaneously. Plus, the city has a game plan written to make it happen.

"It's not hard to go to one school and say, "what should we do here?'" said Katherine Gehl, special assistant to the mayor for technology. "Talk about doing that for 600 schools at a speed responsive to what industry needs, then that is an enormous undertaking."

Daley's plan, called the Action Plan for Technology in Education, was born from the Mayor's Council of Technology Advisors, a group that began meeting 16 months ago to figure out how Chicago could become a premier high-tech destination. Among other things, the council found that an educated work force was key.

That finding spawned the formation of a committee charged with determining how to better the city's work force. After a year, the group unveiled a detailed plan that involves wiring every school, training all school staff and having those trained teachers integrate technology into their curriculums.

"We want to spend the money well," Gehl said. "Because if you don't, you may as well have not spent it at all."

The plan involves getting as much as possible through donations and grants. An increase in taxes is not a given, Gehl said.

For instance, a team of consultants from marchFIRST who worked on the plan donated 5,000 hours to the effort - time that would have cost $750,000 had they been charging. And another consulting firm recently offered to draft a business plan for a recycling program in which companies would donate used computers to area schools.

Gehl said that because the city has a plan, it makes private-sector companies more inclined to donate.

"It shows we're a place [that's] actually going to do this right," she said.

Chicago schools should start to notice changes soon. Principals in every school will have e-mail access by next month. And by year's end, 17 classrooms in every city high school will be wired, along with the library and a lab. In elementary schools, it will be 10 classrooms in each school in addition to the library and a lab.

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