All posts by Mark Shead

Bridal Veil Park Proposal from Fort Scott High School Students

In 2015 Fort Scott High School students Gabrielle Allen,  Olivia Houston, Austin Bolinger, and Morgan Stoughton, under the instruction of teacher Amber Toth, put together a proposal for renovating Bridal Veil Park.

This was a semester long team project requiring students to research and implement solutions to community concerns in the City of Fort Scott.
Their school project included an analysis of what could be done with a  virtual budget.

The student project to renovate the park included playground equipment, a walking trail, some new lighting, four new picnic tables, 14 new trees, and benches, with a total cost of just under $75,000

It also included an analysis of the ongoing costs.  The project was presented to the Fort Scott City Council.

Arial view of Bridal Veil Park provided in the student presentation.

With the recent discussion about the future of the park, the four students have graciously allowed us to share their proposal for the park.  The proposal can be downloaded here.

Bridal Veil Park Proposal

Fort Scott Hurricanes Take Second in League

Fort Scott Hurricanes took second place in the league swim meet with 1049 points to Chanute’s 1065.5. Independence came in 3rd with 505.5 points followed by Coffeyville 274.50, Iola 154.50, Erie 92, and Humbolt with 72 points.

Full results from each event
Individual scores

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Suddenlink Invests in Fort Scott

Late last year, Suddenlink announced a nationwide initiative called Project Gigabit to offer 1 Gbps plans to 90% of their customers by 2017. They also announced that for those customers the lowest speed plans would go from 15 Mbps to 200Mbps.

This month, they announced plans to upgrade technology used in Fort Scott. Gene Regan from Suddenlink said that customers would be receiving information about upgrades to their television service and that while subscribers may be required to upgrade their equipment, that there would be a way to do so with no up-front and no monthly charge.

After getting the details from the team working on the upgrade, Mr. Regan couldn’t say what Internet speeds would be available nor could he say if the upgrades would bring broadband level speeds to the area. Currently the fastest residential plans offered by Suddenlink in Fort Scott are 15 Mbps download and 1.5 Mbps upload. To meet the definition of broadband, service must be at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Currently there is no wired residential provider that offers this level of service in Fort Scott.

The Suddenlink press release follows:

Contact:  Gene Regan, 314-315-9644, [email protected]

Suddenlink Upgrading Fort Scott to All-Digital TV, Faster Internet

FORT SCOTT, Kan. (April 6, 2015) – Suddenlink announced today that it is upgrading technology in Fort Scott. Suddenlink has been working with City Manager Dave Martin and Economic Development Director Heather Griffith to enhance its advanced video services as well as launch faster high-speed Internet services.

“Dedicated community members, city, and county officials have worked together for a long time advocating for additional bandwidth and faster Internet speeds in Fort Scott,” Griffith said. “In today’s technology-driven environment, businesses and residents rely heavily on the Internet for work and recreation. We at the city are pleased to work with Suddenlink as they make significant upgrades to their current offerings in our community.”

Preliminary field work has begun and the first new services will be available in early summer.    Customers will be receiving updates on the project’s status as well as when the new services and enhancements will be available.

The first phase of local work in the community will facilitate a new, all-digital TV lineup. Digital TV features superior picture and sound quality.

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Suddenlink ( is the seventh largest cable operator in the United States, supporting the information, communication and entertainment demands of approximately 1.4 million residential and commercial customers in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and elsewhere. Suddenlink simplifies its customers’ lives through one call for support, one connection, and one bill for TV, Internet, phone and other services.


Agricultural Drone Demonstration

Natural Solutions Agronomics in partnership with Legacy Farm and Garden did a demo for FSCC and the community of their drone technology on Tuesday West of the college. The hexacopter they demonstrated can use GPS to fly a pattern over a field taking pictures that can be used to gather statistics about crops and spot trouble areas that need manual inspection. The images are high enough resolution that they can be used to see mold, fungus and insect damage.

The drone can fly up to 20 minutes on a set of batteries in  it’s current configuration. The demo involved flying over a field at 130 feet.

The owner of Natural Solutions Agronomics, Cody Claflin, is a former FSCC student. He pointed out that the future of agriculture involves a lot of new technology in areas that most people don’t think of as being related to agriculture.

Also present from Natural Solutions were Rocky Castlebury and Chris Beerman. Rocky handles sales and service while Chris pilots the drone when it isn’t using GPS for navigation. Cody said they brought on Chris as a pilot because he and Rocky weren’t as good at avoiding crash landings.

Natural Solutions and Legacy Farm and Lawn also have equipment for doing precision soil samples that they demoed for FSCC last week.

You can find more information at:


Open Letter to School Board

Open Letter from Mark Shead to USD234 School Board:

I shared some of the information in this letter at the last board meeting. However, there is an upper limit to how much can be conveyed in three minutes no matter how fast one talks. Hopefully this format with links to supporting materials will be a bit more effective at fostering the discussions on how technology can be used to create educational outcomes that will propel our community forward.

One-to-one devices

The first area I’d like to discuss is the idea of giving kids a one-to-one device–especially when the distribution of such a device becomes the goal rather than a particular program tied to a particular educational outcome.

In some of the discussions about the bond issue, I was told that there was a fear kids would somehow fall behind if they weren’t given some type of one-to-one device like a tablet or laptop. I wasn’t clear exactly what academic outcomes were thought to be in danger if gadgets aren’t deployed.

Simply giving kids computers has been tried in a number of large experiments with well documented results. In one of the largest randomized studies in the US researchers concluded, “we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions.” In fact the only thing measured that was an “improvement” was simply the amount of time kids spent using a computer.

Another randomized study in Peru, showed some increases in Raven’s Matrix scores, but only for kids who didn’t have access to a computer previously. There was no increase to the sample as a whole. Worse, they found that having an individual device reduced the amount of time children spent reading books.

Uruguay made a country wide deployment of laptops to school children. There researchers were able to track test scores as laptops were rolled out from district to district. They said, that “the program had no effects on math and reading scores.” They pointed out that the use of laptops to do research on the Internet and to look up information didn’t provide any improvement over pre-laptop methods. (Uruguay Study)

As bad as those results sound (given the huge amount of money that was spent with no significant academic return on investment), two economists from Duke University tracked a million kids in North Carolina who were given computers and found, “Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores.” Of particular interest for Fort Scott, they found that the negative effects were especially predominant among students from poor families. Also from that study (article about study), “The introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high‐speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.”

I point out all these studies because it is important to see how easily huge sums of money can be spent with no academic benefit. This is especially true if decisions are being made based on “fear that students will fall behind without one-to-one devices” and the misconception that “exposing” kids to devices is somehow beneficial. (I’ll talk about exposure in a minute.) The actual evidence suggests that school systems should be more fearful about making huge investment in gadgets in ways that aren’t tied to programs designed to support specific educational goals. Worse than just being a waste, some of things schools are trying are actually creating negative outcomes. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use computers in education, but it does mean that you need to decide on the educational outcomes you want to achieve FIRST and then find programs that are getting those outcomes elsewhere. Once all that is in place you may find you need certain devices to reach your goal. Starting with the device and trying to work backwards to find educational outcomes that they can support has been a huge failure in every study I’ve seen where that has been tried.

“Exposure” Theory of Technology Education

The second thing I kept hearing is that USD234 needs to “expose” kids to technology. While technology can be a beneficial thing when used correctly (and the previously mentioned studies show that it can be easy to get wrong), it is a bit of a stretch to think that giving every kid a computer merely so they can be “exposed” to it is going to help kids academically. There are some good ways technology can be used for education, but becoming skilled at technology isn’t like catching chickenpox.

Consider the following: Lets say you decided that the school system really needs kids prepared to go into the medical field. So you go look at doctors and see that they wear lab coats and carry stethoscopes. In an effort to “expose” kids to the medical field, you give all the students lab coats and stethoscopes to carry around. Now perhaps you’d inspire kids to think about the medical field, but the academic benefit of carrying around a stethoscope is nothing. So what should you do if you want kids prepared for the medical field? Have them focus on biology, chemistry, algebra, calculus, and physics. In other words, having them focus on mastering existing high school classes is going to be much more important than trying to “expose” them to the tools that doctors happen to use.

In addition, most of the devices that are easy to manage in a classroom are specifically designed to insulate the user from the technology that makes it work. Chromebooks and iPads are designed for people with no experience with technology to be able to easily use. You may be able to run a good curriculum on the device, but merely using the device isn’t going to teach you anything substantial about how computers work because all of that is hidden away.

If you want kids to actually learn technology, they need to be able to do all the stuff that Chromebooks and iPads are designed to hide. There are programs that do this. For example Cisco’s Network Academy for high school students. Also old desktop computers and networking gear are probably some of the best pieces of equipment to really learn about how technology works if you have a good teacher and curriculum.

There may be some amazing things you can do with giving kids their own devices (assuming you are careful enough to avoid all the negative problems mentioned previously), but “exposure” is not an educational plan.

Managing Technology Lifecycle and Funding

The third thing I want to address is technology management. Back in the mid 90s, there were several school systems that passed long term bonds to buy computers. When I work with businesses to establish technology management plans, I use that as an example and it nearly always elicits a laugh because it is so intuitively unsustainable. From there it prompts a good discussion about how the business needs to approach and budget for their technology lifecycle.

I’ve talked to a local teacher who claims that the school is still using all the computers that were purchased 25 years ago and suggested simply issuing another bond whenever you need to replace computers was a good financial management strategy. This made me realize that it may not be common knowledge just how long computers are expected to be useable. Just for reference 25 years ago is when the 486 was selling for around $10,000 to $30,000 (double those amounts if you want to know what it would have been in today’s dollars) and the Pentium had yet to be invented. Schools would have been purchasing 8088, 286 or maybe 386 hardware running at 25 Mhz. (That is 40 times slower than a typical smart watch today.) If USD234 just finished up the last payment on a bond that a previous board had used to buy computers 25 years ago, would you be praising your predecessor’s financial genius? Could you imagine paying interest for the last 25 years on the purchase price of a 25 Mhz computer that hadn’t been used for the last 17 to 20 years?

Maybe you can get school computers to last 3 to 7 years with a few outliers on either side of that. Maybe devices used in the classroom will only last 2 to 3 years on average. (Take a look at the wear and tear on three year old textbooks for a quick guestimate.) Please don’t use money that the community will be paying interest on for 25 years to buy something that is only going to last 2 to 7 years. In simple terms, you really need to think of your computers as an ongoing expense and budget for them the same way you do for electricity and water. Maybe you can get your all-in costs for student computers down to $75 per device per semester. Costs have come down enough that it might be possible. The point is, that when considering technology you need to be looking at those yearly numbers to make decisions and not spending bond money on technology that has no chance of being used for more than a fraction of the bond payment period.

Studying Computer Science

The final area I’d like to address is preparing students to be able to enter the field of computer science. A lot of stuff gets lumped into computer science. Just to be clear computer science isn’t about plugging computers in or knowing how to use Excel and Word. Computer science is a branch of mathematics and isn’t about computers any more than astronomy is about telescopes.

If you want kids to do well in computer science courses in college, having them focus on algebra, calculus, statistics, probability, and discrete math (if it is offered) is going to give you much greater returns than having them carry a computer around. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great things you can do with a computer, but if you have to choose between spending an extra $150 per year per student on a computer, repair, software, etc. vs. spending that on getting great math results, math is a better overall investment–and not just for people going into computer science.

You’ll find a number of very successful computer scientists in Silicon Valley send their kids to schools that specifically avoid technology in the classroom.  (With limited use as creation tools when they get to high-school.) They aren’t trying to keep their kids away from computer science (see this video). They just know that the focus in high school is on getting kids to think and master high school subjects as the foundation of what they will choose to study in college. Technology can often be an impediment to and distraction from that goal rather than an enabler.

If you do want to teach computer science concepts in high school, the programs that seem to be working well are the ones that integrate it into the math curriculum. For example the Bootstrap World program has a free curriculum being taught in New York and other places that is having a lot of success in using a simple programming language to teach algebra concepts. The curriculum is free, but there is a two day training in New York at the end of February aimed at teaching math teachers how to use it. Also in March there is a meeting of the Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education being held in Kansas City.  The creators of the curriculum are going to present their preliminary findings.  There are of course other successful programs out there, but this is the only one I know of where we could invest 1.5 hours of drive time and get a chance to talk to its creators.

So in summary:

  1. One-to-one devices need to be driven by educational goals not the other way around.
  2. Exposure to technology isn’t an educational plan.
  3. Don’t pay for things over  a period that is longer than their expected life.
  4. Students that want to study computer science in college will be best prepared by investing in math skills.

The community is going to be paying on the bond for the next 25 years. Hopefully the information and links in this letter will do a small part toward creating useful discussion. Hopefully that discussion will lead to decisions that can give Fort Scott the strongest possible academic foundation as we head toward 2040.


Mark Shead

Circles Meeting

Over 30 people attended a meeting at Papa Don’s on Wednesday, for Circles USA–a program that is designed to help people get out of poverty by providing them with social support. The Circles program is being used by more than 75 communities. People join the program as “Circle Leaders” to learn how to better manage their resources to get out of poverty. These Circle Leaders come to weekly classes over an 18 month period where they receive training and a meal. The classes include training in managing personal finances as well as special sessions taught by members of the community. For example, a banker might come in and explain how to go about opening and maintaining a bank account. After the 10th week, Circle Leaders are paired with two Allies to help them. The Allies are there to help provide, support, advice, and accountability that will help the Circle Leader follow their plan for getting out of poverty.

The project plans to post information about the program to their Facebook Page. People looking for more information can contact [email protected] Below is a video that tells a bit about how the program is helping a single mother in another community.