A second-grader's crayon drawing of Thanksgiving. A school district's personnel records. An invoice for notebooks. A 10th-grader's essay on the origins of the Civil War. With 46 million students in 85,000 schools, our public school system is awash with paper in filing cabinets, desk drawers and student lockers.

Five years ago, the idea of using document imaging to manage school paperwork would have been far-fetched. Not many schools had networked computers, either in the classroom or in administrative offices. Most computers were either Apples or Macintoshes -- platforms that have received little support from the imaging industry. Finally, few schools had the resources to purchase an imaging system. Equipping an office with as little as 15 users could cost several hundred thousand dollars -- the kind of money most schools don't have sitting around.

However, the penetration of technology into schools -- grades K-12 -- has grown considerably since then. The number of computers in instructional use in public schools has skyrocketed 186 percent, from 2.2 million in 1991-92 to 6.3 million in 1996-97, according to Market Data Retrieval -- a Dun & Bradstreet firm that compiles information on the education market.

Local area networks have also increased and are now found in 65 percent of all schools. The use of Windows-based PCs has also steadily grown to the point where they comprise 44 percent of the instructional-use market and are the computer of choice in 66 percent of administrative offices.

These numbers have created a fertile ground for document imaging to sow, and the New Haven Unified School District typifies the type of school system that is planting imaging technology. The district encompasses Union City and a portion of Hayward, Calif. -- two bedroom communities 30 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Wired Schools

The school district's population is large -- with nearly 14,000 students -- ethnically diverse and expected to grow in the years to come. In 1993, the school district's voters passed a $27 million bond issue to build a massive information technology infrastructure to meet the rising demand for computerized education.

Classrooms in all six elementary, three middle and two high schools are locally wired and are connected to each other and the district's administrative offices by a 100 Mbps fiber-optic wide area network. Included is a analog, two-way video network that's linked to all the schools.

While imaging currently plays a small role in the district's overall technology program, it has proved invaluable. The administrative offices were suffering from a classic case of record management overload, according to Roger Hoyer, assistant superintendent of technology. "A school district's personnel records are substantial," he pointed out. "We were always having internal problems as to the location of files. As the problems went on, the superintendent wasn't anxious to continue buying filing cabinets."

Hoyer and his staff began looking for a document imaging system that would support the district's Macintosh and Windows PCs. "My one priority was to have an open system that ran on industry standards," he said. In 1994, the district awarded a $240,000 contract to Blueridge Technologies for a 20-seat Optix document management system.

Optix runs on a Sun Sparc 20 server and supports 20 users. Each of the district office's five departments has a scanning station. Workstations for viewing documents are a mix of Macintoshes and Windows PCs. Document images are stored on an array of gigabyte hard drives.

In the four years that the New Haven Unified School District has had imaging, nearly all employee files have been scanned and are stored on the server. Since New Haven has a concurrent user license with Blueridge, individual schools can log-on to parts of the system that are accessible to them and remotely view documents on an occasional basis. "If a principal at a school wants to access the file of an applicant for a teaching position, we no longer have to print