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Gosnell honored for efforts at bringing technology to county schools

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By Tom Wilmoth

When Victor M. Gosnell was hired to lead the Bedford County technology department a decade ago, little technology existed within the school division.

Only one of the high and middle schools had a network set up and none of the schools had Internet connectivity.

A lot has changed since then and now the school division is looked at as a leader in the technology arena. And Gosnell has been recognized for helping accomplish that ? and much more.

Gosnell, the director of Technology and Media for Bedford County Public schools, was recently named Virginia's Educational Technology Leader of the Year, at Virginia's annual Educational Technology Leadership Conference earlier this month.

"If we don't have the technology in the schools to train our children, we will not be able to compete in a world market," Gosnell said of the need. "We learn to use technology and then we use technology to learn. That develops additional technologies and it becomes a cycle."

The ETL conference was a three-day event held at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, Dec. 5 -7. Nominees for the award included regional technology leadership award winners from the eight superintendent's regions around the state.

"It's a great honor," Gosnell said of the recognition.

The award recognizes those individuals in the state of Virginia who exhibit exemplary leadership skills and accomplishments in the area of educational technology. Gosnell was also a conference speaker in one of two special extended sessions offered at the conference. His session, entitled "Techno Tools and Toys" staged a whirlwind tour of new technology to assist educators in managing their lives more efficiently with the latest/greatest in technology tools, and also included a friendly "Face-Off" competition between Apple and Dell.

Over the past 10 years, Gosnell has established a Web presence (www.bedford.k12.va.us ) which now extends to every school and department within the Bedford County division. Working with retired Verizon engineers, every school was networked, largely by unpaid volunteers, saving the school division more than $1 million in engineering and cabling fees.

"Technology is a lynchpin today in instruction," Gosnell said of its importance. "Americans have to continue to grow their technology, both their base, their knowledge and their development. If not, we're going to be left behind."

A wide area network was put in place to provide for the high speed connectivity of every school to the Internet and the central office. Currently a staff of 11 technicians, 11 instructional technology resource teachers and two instructional specialists work to provide a stable and usable system of hardware and complementary instruction for the integration of technology into all facets of the educational program. His leadership has also benefited numerous other school systems in the state of Virginia. Last year, Gosnell established two state of the art distance education classrooms for use by the high schools.

He said this nation must be able to match other nations in the global marketplace. "As other countries come online, the niche they are finding is the niche of technology development. We have to be able to compete with that," he said.

Gosnell has a master?s degree in education from the University of Virginia. His involvement in curricular decision-making includes identifying needs, selecting potential software solutions, collaborating in the evaluation of selections, making final recommendations to the board and then the training of appropriate staff and implementation of the selected technology solution.

But his reach goes much further than the education system.

Gosnell is also a reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff?s office, where as a member of the special investigations division, he works with Blue Ridge Thunder and computer crimes investigations. In particular, in his involvement as a deputy, he has worked with the school resource officers and other law enforcement officials in investigations that involve computer crimes within the school system.

Gosnell assists educators throughout the commonwealth in expanding their knowledge base and being able to better assess and select appropriate technologies for both administrative and classroom use. He attends and participates in local meetings where area technology directors convene to collaborate on technologies that are being utilized in surrounding locales. He has also been invited to speak on various technology topics by the Virginia Educational Media Association and in a number of surrounding school divisions.

"We have a number of school divisions around Bedford that look to Bedford County for leadership in the area of technology purchases," Gosnell said. "I am doing research to try and find the best deals on computers, hardware, software."

A pilot program was implemented in Bedford County to provide streaming video within one elementary school LAN and as a result of that successful pilot, streaming video servers were to be deployed to the remaining 20 Bedford county schools.

"The world as we know is changing," Gosnell said.

As a high school computer teacher, Gosnell worked directly with local businesses in the placement and oversight of student interns in a variety of technology positions within the community. During the current renovation of Jefferson Forest High School, he has worked with the architect, the network integrators and the instructional team to select appropriate technologies to allow for the current and future development and integration of technology into instruction.

The task is not always easy, given limited funds and many needs.

"Because our funding is so carefully scrutinized, we want to make sure that we do the very best in the area of purchasing that we can, to get the best bang for our buck," he stated.

Gosnell has worked to provide tools for both teachers and students within the constraints of that fiscally challenged budget. He has solicited equipment and furniture donations from local businesses, and has stretched dollars by buying quality refurbished computers, and aggressively negotiating prices for all purchases. He has also worked with Verizon to bring the 22 schools independent phone billing systems under a central umbrella, saving the county more than $22,000 per year.

Gosnell has also worked with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and the city of Bedford to develop a low-cost, high-speed Internet connectivity solution to allow Bedford schools to increase their bandwidth from the current 1.5 mbs to a 100 mbs, utilizing existing fiber and the addition of microwave radios.

"The city of Bedford has been very helpful in working with the county and city school boards to enable us to connect to fiber that is already in place," Gosnell said.

This has led to virtually unlimited bandwidth use for the school system's needs. "It will open up more instructional opportunities over the Internet," he said. He said the work with the city has served "as an example of how local governments and school systems can collaborate for the good of the people."

Technology helps with testing, too.

As a part of the division?s plan to assist students in their efforts to pass the state SOL tests, Gosnell worked with teachers and instructional specialists to develop take-home study disks. The successful implementation of this process has allowed every student in grades three through seven, and older students in specific content areas, to have an interactive CD as a take-home study aid. This project is considered an important component in the improvement of SOL scores by Bedford County schools.

This project was recognized this year as an outstanding use of technology in instruction by the Rimage company that manufactures the CD duplicating equipment. As a result of this recognition, Rimage commissioned a case study of the Bedford project that they will use in their promotional materials. They also paid for Gosnell to attend the National Educational Computing Conference to showcase this effective use of technology in education.

All Bedford County teachers now have personal Web pages for posting student assignments and for parental involvement.

The county e-mail system, is the preferred and most efficient mode of communication within the system as well as with parents, the state department, and other outside individuals and agencies. All high schools and middle schools take attendance electronically.

In addition, Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) are now created and managed online via a secure Web site. Employment applications are also completed online with a system that allows principals and other department managers access to applicant data remotely. Substitute teachers are employed through an automated online system, and student records are also warehoused on a secure server that allows remote access by authorized personnel.

He noted the county staff's work.

"I have an excellent support staff that allows me to do quite a bit of legwork for the county that in many cases is cutting edge," Gosnell said.