The little school that could: Rockford Elementary completes 2½-year technology quest
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After more than 2½ years of fundraising, Rockford Elementary School has completed its quest to provide students with the latest technology.
Faculty, staff and students celebrated the momentous occasion Thursday night. Students sang musical selections, and staff and students honored the many businesses, organizations and private individuals that helped turn the school’s ambitious vision into a reality.
During the 2010-11 school year, Rockford Elementary School set technology goals for its campus. Educators wanted to outfit every classroom with an interactive whiteboard, which is a large interactive display that connects to a computer and projector.
Rockford Elementary’s technology goals were bold, outfitting its then-20 classrooms with technology equipment that costs about $2,500 per unit. It was a $50,000 project in the middle of a global recession.
Blount County Schools was unable to undertake the project, as the school district’s revenue levels have remained relatively flat throughout the past five fiscal years even while educators have worked to address increased academic standards. The district spent $77,203,748 in fiscal 2008-09 compared with $77,141,822 in fiscal 2011-12.
Since 2008-09, school officials have budgeted nearly $8.1 million in fund balance. They have also allocated $3,024,080 in nonrecurring revenue, including more than $2.3 million in Education Jobs Fund revenue to fund 26 regular education teachers and Prospect Elementary School’s new employees.
Rockford Elementary School therefore took it upon itself to seek out needed technologies.
“We didn’t want to ask the community for money, because we’re firm believers in helping yourself first,” said Principal Carol Chastain. “We saw it as an opportunity to build responsibility and ownership, as well as pride and the wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes from tackling a problem.”
In spring 2011, Rockford’s entire student body took The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and Cognitive Abilities Test. Officials received $13,000 for participating in the programs, which allowed them to purchase five interactive whiteboards.
In fall 2011, the school raised $2,556 through its Cha-Change for Technology fundraiser. Students raised $756 in the monthlong drive. The $1,800 balance was raised by businesses and citizens. Clayton Homes donated $1,000, Vulcan Materials Co. donated $400 and an anonymous business owner donated $400.
School officials also earmarked money raised in school fundraisers for interactive whiteboards, Chastain said. As of December 2011, Rockford Elementary School had outfitted one-half of its then-20 classrooms with the technology.
In summer 2012, Chastain issued a new challenge to her faculty: Raise $60,000 in one year. School officials wanted to outfit remaining classrooms with interactive whiteboards and purchase supplemental academic materials.
“We felt it was finally time to ask the community for help, because we’d exhausted our resources,” Chastain said. “We have a 92 percent free- and reduced-price lunch ratio, and we’d done everything that we knew to do. We needed some help.”
As of Thursday, Rockford Elementary has raised slightly more than $50,000. The school district contributed $16,000 in federal funds.
In addition to monetary donations, community members have assisted the school with advice and in-kind donations.
School officials initially reached out to Rockford Manufacturing Company, said guidance counselor Melissa Law. “They have been a supporter from the very beginning, and we truly appreciate the Koella family’s support. They have offered invaluable assistance.”
Massey Electric Company also recently modernized the school’s electrical infrastructure, which posed numerous challenges throughout the last several years, Chastain said. Workers also installed wireless access points, and school officials are working toward 100 percent wireless saturation in the building.
“We’ve been successful, because everyone came together for our school and students,” she said. “It’s only happened, because an entire community made it a priority.”
Everything comes alive
Workers recently installed the balance of interactive whiteboards in Rockford Elementary’s 23 classrooms. They outfitted seven kindergarten, first grade and second grade classrooms.
Faculty and students are grateful for the new technology.
“The (interactive) whiteboard is one of the best things about school,” said kindergartner Hannah Wiget. “I’d like to thank everyone who helped us get one, because they’re really fun.”
“The (interactive) whiteboard makes everything come alive,” said teacher Karen Jones. “It breathes new life into old, familiar routines. Everything is big, new and interactive for these kids. It’s the way that we’re moving here. If we don’t, the kids will be left behind. We need to get them early, so they can manipulate technology. It’s the only way that they can be successful on state-mandated tests and life, in general.”