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From Smartboards to Wireless Internet, District 196 Prioritizes Technology

Levy dollars are being used to establish a stronger district-wide wireless network.

District 196 is making an effort to include more technology in day-to-day learning, despite the steep cost of a tech-savvy education.

“Kids grow up with technology now,” said Jane Berenz, superintendent of schools for District 196. “That’s their preferred mode.”

The district is in the process of implementing a range of high-tech tools and systems, said Edward Heier, who is the district coordinator of technology. These tools and systems include interactive whiteboards, video projectors, document cameras, teacher sounds systems, student response systems, electronic distance learning and improved wireless access.

For example, students and staff at view the morning announcements via Smartboards in their classrooms, giving many children the opportunity to appear on the big screen.

“Students just stay more engaged,” Heier said. “The engagement itself, hopefully, will increase student performance.”

Funding for these undertakings comes from a variety of sources, said Jeff Solomon, director of finance and operations for the district. Until recently, a financial pool provided to schools nationwide by the Microsoft corporation as the result of a lawsuit served as a revenue source. Those funds, however, are now drying up after several years of use.

The district also receives $1.4 million per year from its capital projects levy, all of which is intended for technology-related purchases. The 10-year levy was voted into effect in 2004.

Capital funds are another source of technology funding. These monies, which are issued annually, are provided by state aid and by local property taxes. The total capital funds budget is $10 million per year. Only $140,000, however, is designated for administrative technology. Another $1.2 million is also allocated to specific schools, where the revenue is often used to fund technology.

The district’s primary technological priority is building a stronger, more consistent wireless connection, Heier said. This project is still in the early stages; the district is working with a consulting firm to design a network that will allow for the expansion.

Heier said that in the future, the district would like to create an environment where students can bring their own devices to school, and where schools provide students with devices, such as laptops and tablets. The district will begin building the network in either summer or fall of 2012. Heier said he didn’t have an end date for the project, but said the district hopes to establish the network within two years.

The wireless project is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $750,000, Heier said, which is being sourced from the capital project levy; at , a $25,000 grant won in May also .

At present, levy funds will not be available after 2014-2015. The levy could be renewed through a community vote in 2014 if the district chooses to put a levy question on the ballot.

But it appears that high-tech efforts will continue to be a priority for District 196 for the foreseeable future.

“It’s our world now,” said Berenz. “We don’t have the choice to not incorporate technology.”

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