Visit Citebite Deep link provided by Citebite
Close this shade

December 2006 — Features

Print this article

2006 Innovators


Innovator: Wilfredo T. Laboy, Lawrence Public Schools (MA)
Breakthrough: Fiber-based wide area network

After years of spotty communications between its campuses, Massachusetts’ Lawrence Public Schools recently invested in a fiber-based wide area network with T3 connectivity to the internet. As an added bonus, the venture enabled teachers to improve internet access from their homes as well.

Wilfredo T. Laboy

IN CHARGE Laboy led the effort
to upgrade his district’s network.

The project began back in 2001, when district officials set out to replace the iLoop cable that served as the backbone network. The cable was unstable and experienced frequent service disruptions that made instructional and administrative resources inaccessible.

Led by Superintendent Wilfredo T. Laboy, the district set out to find a better way, settling on a wide area network. The first two years involved extensive planning and negotiation. In 2003, the district got moving on the project. The WAN was completed the next year, when all school district buildings were connected. The entire project was paid for with federal E-Rate funds.

Today, with the fiber-based WAN, most of the district’s applications and data reside on large enterprise servers at the central office. Teachers and administrators can access these applications anywhere via a secure IP address. Users can also log on from home through a virtual private network.

Programs on the network include client-hosted Plato Learning courseware, Scholastic’s Read 180, Discovery Education’s United Streaming, and the Waterford Early Reading Program. Administrative tools include the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measure of Academic Progress scores, Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System scores, and IBM’s Lotus Notes.

Looking to the future, Laboy says the district will continue to expand the network, taking full advantage of its newfound reliability. In the long run, this not only will benefit teachers and those who utilize the network, but also students, who will gain from educators’ greater access to data that addresses their needs.


Innovator: Larry Ferlazzo, Luther Burbank High School (CA)
Breakthrough: Family literacy

At Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, CA, educators have turned to technology to help ESL students develop their English and spread it to their families by reading together. The program, dubbed the Family Literacy Project, was the brainchild of teacher Larry Ferlazzo, and has enabled many of the school’s Hmong immigrants to get free computers and DSL service in their homes.

2006 Innovators

LAB WORK Ferlazzo’s ESL students
have profoundly improved their English
literacy through use of the computer lab
before, during, and after school.

Like most good technology programs, Burbank High’s began in a computer lab. In January 2005, Ferlazzo convinced school administrators to open the lab before and after school so his class of 21 ESL students could practice their English. Ferlazzo put together a website for his students, where they could access a variety of free, animated stories on the internet. The stories were designed to boost literacy. The ESL students loved them; the program took off.

After an upgrade to the lab refreshed the computers, Ferlazzo paved the way for the school to give the old machines to his ESL students to use for further practice at home. With the machines disbursed, the school then ironed out deals with a variety of local internet service providers to provide connectivity. Ferlazzo even convinced the ISPs to provide the school with one central monthly bill, as opposed to billing each individual family, which the school paid via a grant from a private foundation.

Ferlazzo says that assessments taken before and after the launch of the program showed that students and parents in the program had nearly double the improvement in their English reading ability compared to a control group. After seeing the data, the district agreed to fund an expansion of the project to about 60 new families in 2007, to include Spanish speakers and Pacific Islanders as well as more Hmong newcomers. Ferlazzo says the district simply did the math: “A 33 percent gain each for four or five students per family for a cost of $22 per family per month for the DSL service seemed like a pretty good payoff.”

In addition to expanding the Family Literacy Project, the school plans to continue the popular ESL computer lab, which has shown equally dramatic benefits: Students enrolled in the lab class have likewise experienced 50 percent greater improvement in their reading scores than those in a control group.

What’s more, Ferlazzo’s students have begun to create their own English-learning activities, which are being posted on the website for other users to access. With computers at school and at home, Ferlazzo’s students and their families have spoken repeatedly about how the reading, speaking, listening, and writing exercises have helped them improve their English and have boosted their confidence in speaking the language.

Ferlazzo says that whether by getting Hmong and Spanishspeaking students together in the computer lab or by having entire families read the same “talking book” together, the aim is to use computers as an instrument to increase face-to-face human engagement, and to give students and their families a wide range of activities to choose from to improve their English. He concludes, “We have given them just that.”