Good planning Technology donations—laptops, software, internet access, networking, PCs, and personal digital assistants—can help schools keep their classrooms relevant. Donations can become a PR nightmare, however, when a lack of clear guidelines makes it difficult to “just say no” to a community partner who wants to unload outmoded or incompatible equipment.

To get the donations your students deserve, get a team of colleagues together and draft a policy that maps out your goals, criteria, and technology specifications. Processes for handling donations—from identifying a single point person or department to take phone calls and requests, to pick-up, clean-up, and delivery to schools—also need to spelled out. At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), for example, we’ve added more than 1,000 computers, 500 laptops, and 66 printers to our schools, thanks to a computer recycling center we established with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. More than 20 schools have been “adopted” by corporate technology partners.

Before we began seeking donations, however, we developed an extensive, system-wide technology plan and detailed guidelines to ensure that the investment we make in donated equipment is based on sound educational decisions.

Too many schools simply take anything that’s available, and that’s a mistake, cautions Rick Rozzelle, a technology consultant who guided CMS’s process.

“Donations should only be accepted if they can improve teaching and learning,” says Rozzelle. “Every donation carries an associated cost. Schools need to make sure that these costs represent a wise investment of technology dollars, which are often limited.”

Key issues to address include compatibility with the existing hardware and network, and whether the computer will run your school’s or district’s core instructional programs or access the internet at an acceptable speed.

If the technology is dated, are replacement parts available and affordable? What are the costs of refurbishing the computer and deleting unwanted software and tracking devices? Can your technology department or help desk handle the additional load? What training issues need to be addressed before teachers and students will benefit?

At CMS, donations must conform to standards outlined in the district’s technology plan. Only business-model computers are accepted; home versions—such as the IBM Aptiva or Macintosh Performa—just don’t have the horsepower needed for daily classroom use. “Accepting a wider range of models is not cost-effective and [is] more difficult to maintain,” says Rozzelle, noting that CMS only accepts Apple Macintosh, Dell, Compaq, and IBM computers that meet the district’s minimum standards for hardware and software. “You’re better off applying limited dollars and resources to newer technology.”

Minimum PC standards include an Intel Pentium 166 MHz processor with 32 MB of memory and a 1 GB hard drive. Donated computers should also have a 6X CD-ROM capability, a 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet card, 16-bit sound card, 15-inch monitor, mouse, keyboard, and the Windows 95 operating system.

CMS also limits the software donations it will accept, focusing on such basics as Windows 95, Microsoft Works, Norton Antivirus, Fortres desktop security software, or Mac Manager, plus internet applications such as Netscape, Eudora, Telnet, and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Instructional software and partnerships are evaluated separately and can vary school by school, depending on student needs.

At CMS, all donations—from crayons to computers—are handled by our Volunteers and Partnerships Office, which brings in more than $15 million per year in in-kind services, volunteer hours, donated equipment, and school-business partnerships.

Schools can access district services for installation, training, repair, and maintenance at no cost if they follow CMS guidelines and refer all donors to this office.

“Our mission is to leverage community resources to meet school needs,” says CMS’s Deb Antshel, who credits her department’s success to clear goals and objectives, teamwork between departments, a hard-working staff, and a generous community.

“You have to have a detailed action plan. No one has time to waste, especially business leaders,” Antshel says. “They respect you more—and give more generously—if you know what you want and why.”


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte Chamber of Commerce