Distance-learning vision rewarded

South Dakota Gov. William Janklow has been recognized for his efforts to bring technology to his state's schools.

The United States Distance Learning Association (www.usdla.org) presented Janklow with its 2001 Eagle Award in recognition of his creative use of and support for technology in South Dakota schools, most of which are small and rural.

The Eagle award is given to someone in the public sector who contributes creatively to distance-learning efforts, said Bill Wagner, spokesman for the USDLA.

"Sure it takes money," Wagner said. "But for the people to find the solutions and bring them to the classrooms, it shows some real imagination, and [Janklow's] that kind of guy. He was a huge catalyst for wiring the whole state and for bringing educational institutions and businesses together for the achievement of that goal."

In 1996, Janklow tried to initiate an estimated $100 million program to wire South Dakota schools with advanced technology applications, but state budget requirements did not permit such a program at the time.

Instead, Janklow pushed ahead with a Wiring the Schools program by enlisting prison inmates to do the wiring, providing a valuable service to schools while teaching prisoners important skills to be used upon returning to society.

Janklow also brought the state's school districts together with universities and phone companies to form the Connecting the Schools partnership that ultimately led to the creation of the Dakota Digital Network.

To complete the vision, Janklow created the Technology for Teaching and Learning Academies in 1997. The program sought to provide teachers the training needed to use technology.

"In a lot of states, the governor takes credit for other people's work, but in this case, he truly was the brains behind the operation," said Ray Christensen, secretary of the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs.

Christensen, who managed the Wiring the Schools project, emphasized that many parties had to be brought together for this to work. Several departments — including education, commerce and corrections — had to coordinate their activities. Telecommunications companies had to be contracted, public support had to be won, and then funding had to be approved by the legislature.

"This isn't just about wiring, this is a mature, well-thought-out program from the top down," Christensen said.

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