Keeping up with the latest technological advancements in education can be expensive. Add to that the shoestring budgets of Catholic schools and things can get really difficult. Enter the St. Benedict Technology Consortium, a non-profit within the Archdiocese of Chicago that provides full-service information technology support to parishes and schools for about 30 percent of the going rate. Scott Bell started the consortium four years ago while director of technology for St. Benedict Parish and St. Benedict High School, 3900 N. Leavitt St. It was something that grew out of need. When he came to St. Benedict’s seven years ago, Bell applied for and received a state grant for “one-to-one” laptops, which covered the cost for a laptop for each student in the school. Then came the need to support the laptops. “So I went to the administration and said, ‘You’re going to hire me extra staff, right?’ And they laughed at me, which is par for the course,” Bell said. He knew he needed people with skills to help support the laptops but didn’t need them everyday. “So I thought why don’t I call some other schools and see if they would like to essentially share technicians, and we started this,” Bell said. “And those were the only cold calls I ever made.” It’s been four years and each year the consortium has at least doubled its number of members. This year there are 40 schools and parishes that are members. Different memberships The consortium has a tier system for membership. As part of the tier-one membership, which usually accommodates up to 200 students, the consortium provides a technician on-site one day a week, on the same day each week, at a cost of $39 per student, per year. Through this system, a technician gets to know the building, the people and the issues they have. There are about 30 people who work for the consortium. “In addition to regular on-site support, everybody gets help desk (which is located at the consortium’s office on the campus of St. Benedict), everybody gets network management — which is Internet connectivity, firewall and filtering, all of that.” They also do IT project management. For instance, a school may hire a third-party to install Smart Boards and the consortium will help schools determine who offers the best products and will work with the companies to oversee installation and set up. “We’re very happy to talk to a principal twice a day about a project,” Bell said. “We’re also very happy to be handed a set of abstract goals and chase it down ourselves.” Not ‘cookie-cutter’ Since Bell has worked in education technology for 20 years (he started in high school by building a graphic design program for his school), he realized that an IT program for schools needed to be tailor-made for the clients. “While we have a model of support we understand that every school is different, they have different administrations, different technical capacities,” he said. “So we are very much not one-size-fits-all. We are treating each school as unique.” This is nearly impossible to do in the for-profit world because to maximize profits companies have to treat everybody the same, he said. “We offer the same services but we don’t assume everybody is cookie-cutter,” Bell said. Often a director of technology is also asked to teach or undertake other duties because things are tight at Catholic schools and they can’t be as effective as they might be.“ We’re trying to provide a better solution at lower cost,” Bell said. “And as far as I can tell we do.” The consortium also looks for large-scale donations of computers or equipment from corporations so they can rebuild them and offer them to their members at a reduced cost. It’s all an effort to be good stewards for the schools and parishes, Bell said. ‘Amazing support’ St. Luke School in River Forest is a member of the consortium. “They’ve been an amazing support for us,” Principal Therese Craig said of the consortium. One of the technicians spends two days a week at the school troubleshooting and offering support. The school has also used the consortium for long-term planning and had them install wireless Internet that would support going one-to-one with iPads or laptops. The school has also purchased iPad trays and new teacher laptops. “We’ve done all of these things with their consulting,” Craig said. “I’m very comfortable working with them and using their expertise.” St. Luke has 398 students in preK-3 through eighth grade. Without the consortium the school would have to hire a director of technology at least part-time, Craig said. “I feel like they are able to provide a lot of comparisons and have done a lot of work within the Catholic schools so they know what our limitations are. They are very resourceful in helping us implement our technology plan,” she said. Since children today learn through technology more than in years past, it is really an extension of the classroom, Craig said. “For me I feel like it’s such a part of them that we always have to try and stay current because it’s how they learn,” she said.