The Oro Valley Community Foundation is embarking upon a $750,000 fund-raising campaign to improve the technology available to students and teachers in the Amphitheater School District.
The foundation publicly launched its campaign last Thursday in a computer lab at Harelson Elementary School, where community leaders stood around relatively aged computers.
"They're the pits," said Gen. John Wickham, the Oro Valley resident who sits on the community foundation board. "We've got to get quality stuff in the school room."
"You can see that they're outdated," the foundation's Dick Eggerding said of the computers. Given state funding reductions for schools and the defeat in November of a $2 million secondary property tax override to help pay for capital investments, the foundation aims "to raise what's needed for all of Amphitheater schools," not just those in Oro Valley, he said.
With budget cuts, the district has been "completely unable to keep up" with technology needs, Superintendent Dr. Vicki Balentine said.
The Oro Valley Foundation is putting up nearly $20,000 to begin the fund drive. It mailed solicitations to 16,000 addresses the week before. Some donations have been made. "We want to keep that impetus going," Eggerding said.
"Anyone who understands the problems we're dealing with, with the economy of Arizona, should know there are a lot of solutions required to get us from where we are today to where we need to be," Balentine said. "We are so excited about this opportunity."
"As the Arizona Legislature continues to slash funding for students in public schools and capital overrides are turned down, it's further proof that it's up to the community to ensure our schools provide excellent educational opportunities," Eggerding said.
"We are not waiting for those guys in Phoenix to figure it out," Wickham said. "We need to educate children" to be competitive. If they are not, "other societies are going to overtake our children." Amphitheater children "need to be able to keep up with it, and we need to give them the tools to do it. They're gaining on us, India, China, other countries. We're still ahead, but we have the obligation to lead the way, and we can do it."
Amphi wants to make the Harelson computer lab "a 21st-Century lab," not unlike a second, grant-funded lab at the school, Balentine said. The district is more likely to acquire refurbished, two- or three-year old computers as compared to brand new, more expensive machines. And it's likely the older Harelson computers would replace further outdated equipment at another school. The district has some 16,000 students and 3,000 full- and part-time employees in 22 schools.
"The classroom is where it's at," Balentine said.
"We do need your help," Eggerding told citizens in a release. "A donation as small as $50 can ensure Amphitheater's staff can equip our children in Tucson and Oro Valley with the technology and tools to be successful in life."
Foundation board member Dick Johnson said the organization would pursue support from corporate residents, to include endowment funds. "This is just the beginning of a long-term relationship … with corporate folks," Johnson said. "We're trying to get individual items in the classroom as soon as possible."
"We're excited about the partnership," said Ben Wichers, the former president of BHP Copper Inc., an Amphi technology benefactor. Wichers now chairs the Amphi Foundation.
In industry, "we saw a real requirement for boosting technology in the classroom," Wichers said. "In industry, we live and die by productivity. When we increase productivity, we become more competitive, by applying technology. Technology applied in the classroom improves both student productivity and teacher productivity."
"The expectation of industry, even at entry-level positions, is the young people coming out of school are going to be computer literate," said Oro Valley Community Foundation vice president Kay Williams. "Adults have to step in."
"It's a really exciting opportunity to continue the partnership we all have with the Foundation, the town and the school district," Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said. "We are working very hard to continue to have this area excel. We all have to participate as part of this partnership. We have to educate all of our citizens on the advantages of why this really works."
Lisa Ferko, president of the parent teacher organization at Harelson, said the group was able to allocate $8,000 toward unmet school needs. Of 15 requests from teachers, "all but two were for technology," Ferko said. "Every grade level requested a technology need."
The Amphitheater Schools Project
Anti-virus protection, wiring, controllers, $50-$500
Computers, $876-$1,000 each
Complete classroom mini-lab, $14,000
Complete math and science lab, $55,000
Required software, $50-$148 per package
Laser printers, $430-$1,149 each
Classroom mini notebooks, $550 each
21st-Century classroom, $48,000
Donations may be made to the Oro Valley Community Foundation, 2250 E. Broadway, Tucson, 85719
For more information on donating to the Oro Valley Community Foundation's capital campaign, call (520) 547-5954 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.