Computers In School: Not So Easy, But Simple

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Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The computers groan and whine when you fire them up, as though the frightened gremlins inside are trying to claw their way out.

The telephone systems have grown so elderly you have to shop for spare parts on eBay.

The computer routers frequently clog up, since they’re 18 years old in an industry where systems change fundamentally every 18 months.

Alas: Bear witness the state of the computer systems in the Payson Unified School District on which our children rely to build their future.

The school board absorbed the discouraging update on the plight of the harried elves trying to keep the district’s computer network from bursting into flames, despite the 20-year-old infrastructure.

The district’s plight underscores the complexity of the solution to the crisis confronting our schools.

Fortunately, the district’s not alone. By happy coincidence, the Mogollon Health Alliance recently capped years of persistent effort by landing a $276,000 federal grant to help local school districts upgrade their technology to take advantage of new opportunities for online learning. The Alliance first applied for the money nearly three years ago, but fell just short in the first funding cycle. When the federal government came up with additional money, the Alliance got a last-minute call inviting it to resubmit the application. The group’s creativity and diligence paid off for our local schools, each of them starved for cash these past three years as the state Legislature has cut K-12 funding to the bone to balance the budget and fund business tax breaks.

The partnership between the Alliance and the district demonstrates the importance of community support for our struggling schools. The Alliance remains a major resource for this community. In addition to the boost for technology in schools, the Alliance continues to pursue a $30 million federal grant to make Payson a hub for innovations in telemedicine that could help a dangerous lack of medical specialists in rural Arizona.

Unfortunately, the problem facing Payson schools goes far beyond up-to-date computers. Repeated studies have shown it takes much more than new computers and fast routers to boost student learning. Study after study has proven that technology makes little difference in student scores unless the district also trains teachers on how to make use of the shiny new machines. Teaching remains a complex blend of skills, tools and inspiration. It relies first on the relationship between teachers and students.

So we must not assume that new computers will solve all our problems. They’re merely tools for properly trained and empowered teachers.

As Ronald Reagan once observed: “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

Rim Country on a roll

Dude. Way to go.

The Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike Race proved a rousing success this weekend.

And we’re not just talking about the beer garden.

Nearly 200 riders showed up to test themselves on the demanding, 15-mile-long mountain bike trek — including one enterprising young fellow who couldn’t hitch a ride and so rode his mountain bike up from Scottsdale.

Restaurants filled up, people savored the beautiful fall weather and Rim Country enjoyed another turn of the wheel in the development as a great place to ride.

Please note: Studies suggest that bicycling contributes $133 billion annually to the national economy and supports 1.1 million jobs. Many benefits show up in rural economies, where the economic struggle remains acute.

In this case, the race served a dual purpose — since a portion of the trail runs along a fire break funded in part by volunteer groups in Pine and Strawberry.

Hopefully, Payson, Star Valley, Gila County, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and other groups working together to support a vibrant, year-round, resilient economy will build on this foundation to make this region a mountain bike heaven.

In the meantime, we offer our congratulations to the organizers and participants alike.

Oh yeah: And loved the beer garden.

And we hope the brave lad who rode up the mountain to enter the mountain bike race got a ride home — or at least made it safely back down the hill.

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