McHenry District 156 settles on scaled-back technology plan

It will affect only devices used by teachers

McHENRY – District 156 will phase out its decadeold computer network this year and replace it with tablets and laptops.

The upgrade will affect only the devices used by teachers, said Brent Raby, director of curriculum and instruction. The McHenry district's 12 computer labs, the library's computers and support staff's computers will not be affected.

The technology plan is greatly scaled back from what the district had hoped to do when it appealed to voters in an April referendum.

The district hoped to use $1.9 million of $2.2 million it saved in refinancing bonds to upgrade its aging technological infrastructure, install projectors, replace the district's computers and put devices in the hands of every student.

"The defeat of the referendum made the district go back to the drawing board and scale back the plan," Superintendent Mike Roberts said.

Instead, the district plans on supplying each teacher with an iPad and MacBook Air and installing projectors connected to Apple TVs in classrooms, Raby said. The installation of wireless Internet already has begun and is expected to be completed by the end of the semester.

Twelve iPads have been distributed to some teachers and departments for testing, Raby said.

The remainder of the devices will be phased in as teachers, between 30 and 40 at a time, complete a 10-week staff development training aimed at getting them comfortable with the technology and showing them how to effectively use them in the classroom, he said.

"It's such a major overhaul," Raby said. "I kind of feel like we're living in the house while we're remodeling. I think slower is better for us."

Raby expects the rollout to be complete by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

While Apple products can cost more, the district decided to go with Apple devices because they will work together seamlessly and are more stable and less prone to bugs, Raby said.

This plan will cost the district about $300,000, which will come from a state payment the district had not expected to receive.

School districts receive what are called "categorical payments" from the state that go toward transportation and special education. They are paid out to districts throughout the year.

District 156 has not received the fifth payment for the past four years, Roberts said, but in late June, the district received the payment, amounting to about $500,000.

"This categorical payment could not have come at a better time as this 10-year[-old] technology was on the verge of collapse, and we really had nowhere to turn," Roberts said.

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