There’s a lot of buzz surrounding a recent report issued by Greg Davis to the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. In a nutshell, it shows Lafayette Parish falling behind as other parishes move up in the state’s rankings. There is also growing frustration within the chamber regarding paltry progress toward mutually accepted goals since 2001, when a deal was struck to secure chamber support of a sales tax referendum for education.

There are certainly some exemplary programs in Lafayette Parish public schools, but the former chamber chairman’s report lays bare a frustrating Achilles heel in our otherwise progressive and robust community. So far the discussion has centered on two things: local accountability and statewide reform vis-a-vis state superintendent Paul Pastorek’s plans for changes in school board management. Both are fundamental to progress, but it’s time to interject something new into the discussion.

Lafayette Parish sits on a unique opportunity to re-imagine our system as a model for the 21st century classroom by leveraging our community’s fiber initiative as a mega-tool for schools. The LUS network’s capacity is so vast that no other school system in this hemisphere has it (some systems in Europe and Asia come close). That means we’re in uncharted territory — there is no domestic model for us to emulate. It also means there is a huge economic development opportunity for Lafayette to emerge as a global leader in the development of educational tools for the new century.

Ethan Jordan is a young entrepreneur with a vision for how it could work. Although he’s lived and worked in Dallas, Pittsburgh (he studied two years at Carnegie Mellon), Finland, Lithuania, San Diego and France, he’s a UL graduate with Lafayette roots (his great-aunt Christiana Smith was the university’s first African-American graduate). He is co-founder of QuikSu Systems, which was formed essentially to answer this question: What will the 21st century education system look like? Jordan thinks Lafayette is the perfect place to create it. “Fundamentally, classrooms haven’t changed in almost 100 years,” he says. “We’re trying to create a 21st century workforce in classrooms that were designed for the Industrial Age. The new model is going to be created somewhere. Why not here?” His end-to-end solution addresses everything from classroom design and solar energy supplies for aging campuses to poly-touch computer screens that allow multiple students to work as teams, even across the globe. As his venture wraps up research and development and enters the marketing phase, Jordan is looking to raise $2.5 million for pilot programs in three schools: Alice Boucher, L.J. Alleman and Carencro High School.

Geoff Daily describes himself as a fiber optic evangelist. Based in Washington, D.C., he’s also the editor of App-Rising.com, contributing editor of StreamingMedia.com, and he covers his beat wherever it takes him, which lately is often to Lafayette. He’s hopeful that Jordan can be successful in launching QuikSu Systems here, explaining that Jordan is the first to integrate many existing tools, add a few new ones and end up with a fully articulated 21st century classroom. Daily is bullish generally about this and other opportunities that can exploit the local fiber network. “We can fundamentally shift the human experience,” he says.

Daily recounts a recent trip to a software convention where he asked programmers to speculate on what they would develop if they had 100 megs of bandwith available to every household in a community. “It opened some minds,” he says. “None of them had ever even allowed themselves to think in terms of that capacity. For them, it’s all about compression. This is a whole new world.” And the epicenter is Lafayette, La.

We have many problems in our local schools and a huge opportunity to fundamentally shift the education experience (to paraphrase Daily). Our community has a wide array of assets that make it the perfect incubator. Our mid-size school system is not so big to be daunting, not too small to lack resources, and facilitates the collaboration necessary for the efficient development and evaluation of ideas. It’s diverse enough to test models across all skill levels. All public schools in the parish are already connected by LUS’ fiber network, and the bandwidth to high schools was expanded recently to one gigabyte. Add the university, the local mega-computing power and talent pool of programmers, investment capital and the fundamental entrepreneurial nature of our business community and you have a fertile and powerful mix. In much the same way Lafayette is known as a world leader in technology that serves the energy sector, we could also establish ourselves as the ‘go-to’ place on the planet for learning tools as well. And we can more than fix our own schools in the process: We can reinvent them.

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