Internet High Near? -- Fed. Way To Explore High-Tech Teaching

FEDERAL WAY - In its attempt to create a district for the future, the Federal Way School Board last night took a small but vital step ahead.

School-board members followed Superintendent Tom Vander Ark's recommendation and unanimously approved a plan to investigate a variety of high-tech teaching methods that could one day create an entire high school on the Internet, replacing the brick-and-mortar schoolhouse.

The plans are ambitious. Vander Ark envisions a network of communication systems, including computers, the Internet and satellite dishes, that essentially would allow students to learn at a higher level from their home or wherever else they could hook a computer to a telephone.

The plan, which Vander Ark calls the Internet Academy, sets out to lift all students.

He says it would allow students who failed certain courses to make up those credits, let gifted youths take college-level courses and give home-schooled students access to a broader selection of course work.

"This will make learning more active and engaging and fun," Vander Ark said.

With last night's vote, the district now will seek bids from companies that, among other things, provide satellites, multimedia products and curriculum geared for computers. The board made no financial commitment last night.

To Vander Ark, this is not just about technology. It's about survival. He said schools must strive to compete in the educational marketplace. "If we don't enter this market, several other providers will beat us to it," he said.

For board member Linda Hendrickson, Vander Ark's preliminary plan appears promising.

She said her children, on their own, used the family computer to take course work offered on the Internet by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"That experience allowed them to go above and beyond, and it raised their skill level. I think it would be a real benefit to any kid in the district," Hendrickson said.