Los Angeles-area schools will enter the Space Age next month when the county Office of Education launches its own satellite television network.
The new Educational Telecommunications Network--ETN--will broadcast its first program May 4, according to Patricia Heffernan-Cabrera, coordinator of the project.
Programs, which will include televised workshops designed to keep teachers current, will be broadcast from a small studio in the education office's headquarters in Downey, bounced off a satellite in space and then picked up by satellite dishes installed at local schools.
The network's programming will be available at no charge to local school districts. To participate, a district will have to install at least one satellite dish and related equipment. Heffernan-Cabrera said the necessary equipment costs about $6,000 at a group-purchase price arranged by her office.
Thirty-five local school districts are obtaining dishes. Each of the 82 districts in the county, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, has expressed interest in the project, she said. Eleven county education offices, including those in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, also plan to participate.
Los Angeles County's network is unusual in that it will allow two-way communication by telephone between the audience and the experts on screen.. As a result, teachers and other participants may ask questions and share their views with the county curriculum specialists and other experts who appear on the programs.
The county is also training people from each participating school district to serve as facilitators who will fine-tune the equipment and work with the participants at each school during the broadcasts.
Heffernan-Cabrera said the network will be the only such program in the state providing educational services free to elementary and secondary schools. More than 30 states have similar networks, she said.
County education spokesman Robert Grossman said that districts will quickly recoup their initial investment by what they save in not having to send teachers off-campus for training. In the past, he said, districts have had to hire substitutes and pay for mileage and other costs associated with traditional methods of keeping teachers and other school staff up to date.
"For three bake sales by a good PTA you can have a dish on your roof," Grossman said.
Grossman also noted that the network will allow county consultants and other experts to reach far more school personnel than they could in person.
Leo Lowe, assistant superintendent for education for the Las Virgenes Unified School District, said he was happy at the prospect of county services coming to Las Virgenes, instead of district staff going to the county office for workshops and the like.
"We're an hour and a half away from Downey," Lowe said. "It's much more expeditious and more convenient to put the satellite in the sky to work for us."
Lowe said about 20 teachers plan to participate in the first program, the May 4 session on the state's new guidelines on teaching language arts.
John Cook, superintendent of the Montebello Unified School District, said his administration has recommended to the school board that it purchase a dish. Cook said he was excited by the educational potential of the technology.
"I think this has great possibilities," Cook said. He said he can imagine a time when every secondary school in the district is equipped with a dish.
Jane St. John, director of instructional programs for the Lennox School District, said she thinks about 75% of her district's 175 teachers would participate in the network's initial programs. She predicted the district would save enough to cover its equipment costs in a year or two. "And you can't put a dollar value on what it can do to motivate teachers," she said.
The Alhambra School District was able to buy a dish with part of a $2.5-million grant it received from the state to demonstrate how schools can use advanced technology. The dish is being installed at Emery Park Elementary School, which will eventually be opened to educators as a model school, district official Gary Karnow said.
County officials said the project has cost the county about $200,000 for equipment and other start-up costs. ETN is seeking federal money and other funding for the future, Heffernan-Cabrera said. Eventually, the network might be able to offset some costs by selling services to business and industry. "We're going to market our capability," she said.
In addition to the language-arts programs, ETN's May programs will include a weekly news broadcast aimed at school administrators and district board members.