River Bend seeking technology upgrades

Amy Kent/Clinton HeraldStudents Kyle Schipper (left) and Max Lemke on Tuesday work on laptops issued by the school in the library at River Bend Middle School in Fulton, Illinois.

FULTON, Ill. — Providing a level of education equal to surrounding school districts isn’t an attraction to the River Bend Board of Education — instead it wants to become the apex other schools strive to reach.

That is why a proposal on Monday from the River Bend Technology committee recommending a nearly one-to-one ratio for laptops, or an equivalent form of technology, provided to each student in the district, was met with hesitation and encouragement from the school board to aim for more.

“I don’t want to be on par with these (other) schools,” Eric Fish, River Bend School Board member, said. “I want them to be coming to us saying ‘what’s Fulton doing?’”

It wasn’t the reaction the members of the technology committee, comprised mostly of district teachers and staff, were expecting.

In an era when school funding has taken continuous cuts, and expenses are always on the rise, the technology committee has approached the need to upgrade the district’s technology infrastructure and equipment frugally yet efficiently. The thought was the option presented on Monday did just that. 

The option called for a one-to-one ratio of Chromebooks to sixth through eighth grade students at River Bend Middle School; a one-to-one ratio of laptops for all students at Fulton High School; the purchase of 150 Chromebooks for fourth and fifth graders at Fulton Elementary School and approximately 225 Chromebooks to the first through third graders; and the redeployment of iPads used by the district to the kindergarten, art and music programs throughout.

Fish and school board president Dan Portz didn’t think that was pushing the envelope far enough.

“I’m with Eric (Fish) on this one; we definitely want to get that computer to student ratio to one-to-one, or as close to one-to-one as possible,” Portz said.

The challenge the technology committee thought it faced prior to Monday’s meeting was funding needed to provide the upgrades. With full approval to bond $1 million, which also passed on Monday, the board explained that funding is available.

Whether the school board decides it will bond the $1 million, $200,000 of health life safety bonds and $800,000 in the working cash fund, will not be known until June, at which time it will also make the decision to move forward with a one-to-one technology ratio for its students.

One thing Fish made known is he would not support a decision that is determined by money.

“My feeling is, we’re bonding for this, money is less of an issue,” Fish said. “This is kind of a once in a very few opportunities so let’s aim high and understand what the cost of aiming high is. If we have to dial it back down, then we can dial it back down. If we don’t ask for it, we can’t negotiate with the supplier, so we need to negotiate what we want first, understand exactly what we want, what is the best option for us and negotiate hard for that.” 

Despite what the final decision will be, whether for the bonding or for the technology upgrades, the committee and Superintendent Darryl Hogue expressed what providing this level of electronic enhancement will contribute to the overall educational benefits to the students in the River Bend School District.

“When we met with some of the other schools, they said that some of the high schoolers had the most difficulty relearning some of the technology and the way of doing business with computers versus paper and pencil,” Hogue said. “If we start younger we’re going to get more engagement.”

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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