Saint Bernard School partners with Marist College to upgrade its entire technology infrastructure

Montville — In a relationship launched under its $3 million capital campaign, Saint Bernard School has partnered with Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to upgrade the information technology infrastructure at the Catholic middle school-high school.

When students start the 2015-2016 school year they will have access to a high-speed network, online college courses, the ability to use several wireless devices at the same time and new desktop computers.

Marist is also upgrading the school's systems for managing staff communication and student information and will upgrade the school website.

Donald Macrino, headmaster at Saint Bernard, said when the school launched The Hendrick Challenge multi-year campaign for facilities renovations and educational upgrades last fall, one of the first goals was to improve the school's technology. This is the first project funded by the campaign.

Saint Bernard School will spend about $250,000 for hardware upgrades, including rewiring the entire school, while Marist is providing its technical expertise, technological platform, cloud system, online courses and desktops free of charge.

"Our technology was lacking, and it's an important part of 21st-century education," said Macrino. "Marist is a powerhouse, a flagship when it comes to higher education in technology. Without Marist, it would have gobbled up a significant amount of money."

For its part, Marist College has a mission to help schools produce students who are better prepared for higher education.

"We learned that the best way to succeed is to form partnerships," said Bill Thirsk, vice president of information technology and chief information officer. "We're giving a great school a new breath."

Thirsk said about 25 years ago Marist formed a partnership with IBM. The computer giant gave the college more computer technology than it could use, just to see what would happen. The result was that the college went from being unranked to 11th among regional universities in the north by US News and World Report. Marist wants to replicate that experiment at Saint Bernard.

The relationship between Saint Bernard and Marist was formed thanks to St. Bernard alumnus and Board of Trustees member Sean Kaylor, vice president for enrollment management at Marist.

Kaylor grew up in southeastern Connecticut and said he saw Saint Bernard go through some difficult times. He believes the upgrades will make sure that students get the best opportunities and will help the school become more competitive.

"This infrastructure will allow Saint Bernard to put the existing technology in place and be creative with non-traditional academic programming," said Kaylor. "It will allow them to put their own content online and enrich the learning experience."

Macrino said a tech team from Marist came to Uncasville in January and February and looked at the entire school.

The team created a technological blueprint that will, among other things, allow the school to offer two online courses. The subject matter hasn't been selected yet, but Macrino said one class will probably be in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Marist would provide the online content for free and students would earn college credit. During the summer Marist will train two faculty members to teach the courses.

Thirsk added that the college will eventually provide five more online courses.

Macrino said the new platform will also give students access to the Library of Congress and Marist's library in Florence, Italy.

The headmaster also wants to implement a "bring your own device" program in which students can bring their own electronic devices to school, whether it's a laptop, smart phone or tablet.

Thirsk said the upgrades will allow each student to connect three or four devices into the new wireless network.

Macrino said the goal of the capital campaign is to invest $600,000 annually through 2020. The Saint Bernard community has set a fundraising goal of $200,000 annually over the life of the five-year campaign and received a commitment from the diocese to match up to $200,000 each year during that time. Maureen Donohue Hendricks, Class of 1972, has pledged to match up to $200,000 each year as well, through the John and Maureen Hendricks Charitable Foundation.

Dana Williams, Saint Bernard's director of advancement, said in its first year the campaign has raised $450,000. This year's phase of the campaign ends June 30, and donations are still being accepted.

"What we've seen in the alumni is that they really want to give back to the school," said Williams. "There has been a rejuvenation among the alumni."

Macrino said the school recently completed a 10-year accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. One recommendation was to review and revamp the curriculum.

Macrino said each core department will rewrite its curriculum for a more global perspective. This year's incoming freshmen will take the revamped courses. When they graduate their diplomas will have a designation that says they have completed a Global Studies Curriculum.

Macrino said these changes and future plans for the school will help keep Saint Bernard an important institution for generations to come.

"Saint Bernard is here and strong and not on the brink any longer," said Macrino.

i.larraneta@theday.com

@larraneta

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