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District 200 eyes massive tech device buy in coming years

The Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education received its annual technology update Wednesday at the Technology Center of DuPage.
The Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education received its annual technology update Wednesday at the Technology Center of DuPage.

WHEATON – In a few years, Community Unit School District 200 students may each have their own smartphone, tablet or laptop, according to a presentation given Wednesday for the Board of Education.

District Executive Director of Technology Rod Mack offered a preliminary vision of the future of technology in education before the board at the Technology Center of DuPage.

After a recent staff focus on improving tech support proved fruitful, he said the district was ready to move forward by insuring students and teachers are equipped with the technology and professional development needed in the 21st century.

"The change has to increase student learning engagement," Mack said. "It's not just about devices in people's hands. Even if we're not talking about one-to-one, it's not just about getting 10 iPads in every classroom to be able to have this access. It has to make a difference to how they're learning at the same time."

The process of integration has already begun with a pilot program using Google applications, such as Google Docs and Gmail. Some administrators and student groups were given early access to the applications in November, and responded with positive feedback: 83 percent logged on to Google since access was granted and 62 percent logged on in the five days before Mack's presentation.

Those numbers were especially high for something that was a suggestion, instead of a mandate, he said.

Board member Jim Mathieson said he was concerned about the relatively low number and stressed the importance of ensuring the entire staff is on board with new technology, but his worries were met with hope.

"Ten years ago, initially when we turned on email, maybe 60 percent of the teachers jumped on," said Superintendent Brian Harris. "At some point you say, that's it, that's the job function, everybody's on, everybody's engaged."

Harris called technology integration a "critical job function," and something the board would have to actively work towards.

Future endeavors would need to go hand in hand with a budget increase in the technology department, Mack said, particularly if the board wants to ensure students each have an electronic learning device moving forward.

The department and staff has been working on two possible start-up purchasing options between $5.4 million and $7.4 million from 2015 to 2019. The former would cover the expenses of $300 devices while the other would cover those of $500 devices.

An estimated $1.5 million would be used annually for ongoing purchases for new students.

Several other large projects exist for which there is no space in projected future budgets, such as providing laptops to elementary teachers and entering into a third year of the electronic learning consortium the district joined in January.

Funding won't magically appear, Harris said, suggesting the district may have to find additional revenue streams by increasing fees or changing spending priorities and revenues.

President Barbara Intihar said it will be important to include community members in future discussions. Many in attendance suggested the district use a similar process to that of its current Engage200 feedback model.

Further technology development information will not be made publically available until fall, after a school committee forms a more concrete plan and budget talks get underway, Harris said.

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