K-12 Trends | Q&A

Pulling Together a Small School Tech Upgrade

When Kathy Peck came onboard as principal at Saint Joseph School a year ago, the Rockville, CT-based institution was pretty far behind on the technology curve. With 110 students, the K-8 school had a single computer lab that over time had become defunct.

"The lab had been disbanded and was being used for something else; teachers had maybe one desktop per classroom," recalled Peck. "There wasn't much of anything running very well, technology-wise."

What the school did have was ample space for a new media center and a new principal who had already seen firsthand the effect that classroom technology had on the development of 21st century learners. Here, Peck discusses the "before and after" picture at Saint Joseph School, and tells how she rounded up funding and support for a full-blown technology overhaul on campus.

5 Tips for Approaching Fundraising

1. Create a plan of action first, and include a multi-phase approach to implementing the new technology.

2. If your school is small and doesn't have access to state or government funding, don't be discouraged. Instead, test out creative fundraising methods.

3. Pick up the phone and call around to community members, parents, and companies, all of which have an interest in the success of their local schools.

4. Focus all fundraising activities on the students and how IT will help classroom learning.

5. Don't just buy the latest and greatest technology for the sake of buying it. Make sure it integrates well with your current educational program.

Bridget McCrea: Why did the technology upgrade take center stage for you as the new principal?

Kathy Peck: I'd already seen the impact that technology had on learning, and while doing my doctorate work I got interested in applications like Blackboard, and how it was being used in the classroom. I studied up on the value of 21st century learning skills, and how students can acquire those skills. I wanted to see it applied in our small, private school.

McCrea: What challenges stood in your way?

Peck: Being small means we can be agile, but it also means that we don't have the funding or resources that large, public schools do when it comes to buying, installing, and implementing technology.

What we did have was some empty space that I envisioned being turned into a new, state-of-the-art media center, and a vision for making that happen. We also had some American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money that had been allocated to our school, and we decided to put it all into technology.

McCrea: What type of equipment did you investment in?

Peck: We received a grant award for new computers and a donation from a church parishioner and Saint Joseph's Church Men's Club for new multimedia displays (flat screen TV/monitors), which were installed in all classrooms. We updated our library with new computer and listening stations and built out our new media center and equipped it with 20 HP laptops and a mobile power station that allows teachers to move the computer setup into their own classrooms. We also started using a learning management system that lets students upload their work online, collaborate with one another, and participate in discussion groups and blogs.

McCrea: Where did you find the support and money needed for the overhaul?

Peck: We got on the phone and started telling people about our plan.

We asked parents--five of whom turned out to be experienced IT experts--for help. They were enthusiastic about our plan and got together as a team to give their support with the technology selection and implementation.

The phone calls also elicited the donation for the multimedia classroom displays. We also applied for a Central Connecticut State University computer grant, which allowed us to buy 15 additional computers. We're waiting right now to hear on a grant that will permit us to put interactive pads and whiteboards in all of our classrooms.

McCrea: What's your fundraising secret, in an era when schools are hard-pressed to find money?

Peck: When we write grants and solicit other types of financial support, we're very careful to always focus on how the investments will benefit our students. You can't just go asking for funds; you have to have a solid reason for how those funds will benefit students and the donors.

It has to be a win-win situation.

We try to stick to education-based reasoning, and we recruit grant writers and other individuals who can help come up with those reasons and put them clearly into writing. We've also had beneficial results from reaching out to parents and parishioners in the community, many of which have experience and connections in the corporate world. We tell them what we're looking for, and see if they're able to match us up with good opportunities.

McCrea: How are you handling professional development?

Peck: Our goal is to integrate technology into our educational program in a seamless fashion and address those teachers who are eager to embrace technology and those who are leery of it. We know professional development will play a major role in that process and that it will require even more funding and support. We currently have one teacher on staff that is going to handle some of the coaching and support for other instructors, and we plan to tap into some of our local college and university connections as well. Right now, however, we don't have a specific professional development plan other than the fact that we know it's something that we need to do.

McCrea: Any other fundraising advice you can share with schools looking to upgrade their technology infrastructures?

Peck: We are still learning and fumbling around ourselves. I feel there is a lot we don't do right. I think it's important to have a plan and to phase the technology in on a step-by-step basis. There are so many options out there--and technology is changing so rapidly--that you have to think things through before jumping in. Don't just buy technology for the sake of buying it. Consider how it will benefit the students and how it can be integrated naturally into your educational program.

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].