Oak Park schools hope to spend more on technology

Supt. would earmark $5 million from 2011 bond sale referendum

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

District 97 earlier this year approved an ambitious, wide-ranging technology plan. But new Supt. Albert Roberts would like to spend even more in that area if the district gets a referendum approved this spring.

The five-year, $4 million plan, approved last April by the board of education, calls for such things as SMART boards in every classroom and laptop computers for teachers to use for instruction. Implementation began this fall.

Roberts has recommended spending an additional $5 million if the district's April 2011 referendum is approved by voters. The district is campaigning for a $75 million working cash bond sale — an increase of $61 for every $1,000 paid in property taxes. Along with covering operating expenses in the short term, Roberts says some of that money should be invested in such things as technology and improving playgrounds. The superintendent also recommends updating each school's audio/visual equipment — which would cost an estimated $215,000 — as well as installing a cable hookup for each building.

The tech plan, recommended under the previous administration, originally projected a cost of $8 million, but that was revised lower at the request of the board. The idea of turning classrooms into "21st-century learning centers," though, was supported by the board. Roberts has seconded that motion. The district has lagged behind other school districts as far as technology, he says.

"We need youngsters to have access to technology, and we need for every teacher to be able to use various technologies in their classroom, whether they be SMART boards or automated response systems, you name it," he said at the district's referendum forum Nov. 18.

Foreign language instruction, Roberts added, could be enhanced using better technology.

"We can't go out and hire nine more teachers, given the economic environment. We need interactive systems, maybe some other program, and we need to monitor it," Roberts said. "But if we're going to do it, we need to do it right, and we need to utilize it as a way for youngsters to not only learn a new language but to reinforce the basic skills in their native tongue."

Roberts talked about students being able to use a smart phone in their studies, and teachers being able to use a laptop computer to connect to a SMART board or perhaps to students' laptops.

Audio/visual equipment in particular needs to be upgraded, Roberts said.

"There are some things that really are outdated that we continue to use in our school system. Not all of our teachers have the projection systems we need," he said. "Kids are going to one day come to school and be able to use smart phones in the classroom to learn. We have to do a better job of understanding the power of technology in helping teachers and students reach their goals."

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