Byline: Mick Zawislak Daily Herald Staff Writer
Parents of Stevenson High School students soon will be able to know whether their kids are loading up on junk food or having a healthy lunch.
The feature is almost a curiosity in a powerful and potentially wide-ranging student ID/debit card system that will put the Lincolnshire school at the forefront of technology.
Beginning in summer school, Stevenson joins businesses such as American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Quad/Graphics, and an array of schools including DePaul and Loyola universities in using a system to eliminate cash transactions.
Initially, Stevenson student IDs will double as debit cards with a magnetic strip on the back to be used in the three cafeterias and at the school library. But the $162,000 system, approved by the school board last week, can be customized and expanded far beyond the simple debit function.
"It's very cutting-edge for Stevenson to think globally. It's not just a lunch card," said Larry Kontz, sales director for Blackboard Inc., the Phoenix-based provider.
Among the possibilities are student groups swiping the cards on hand-held devices to collect fees for T-shirt sales, for example. Access to parking lots or computer labs could be controlled, attendance tracked by teachers and student use of certain areas, such as the band room, could be monitored.
As a security measure, the system could be expanded so cards are needed to enter and exit restrooms, for example. If vandalism was discovered, school authorities could search system records to determine who might have been there and at what time.
Stevenson officials say they aren't thinking that far ahead. They will install only the basic debit card system as a convenience for students, staff and parents and a time- and money-saving measure for the district.
"We are not planning on using it as a student tracking device," said Lester Raff, president of the Stevenson High School District 125 school board.
To start, the ID/debit card is being implemented as a convenience at the lunch counter. Over time, students will be able to purchase items from the bookstore, pay fees and enroll in courses using the card.
"I think it's an awesome idea," said Laurie Dickinson, co- president of the Patriot Parent Association and a member of a school committee that studied the proposal. "As a parent, I think it's the best thing that could happen - every morning, I'm doling out $4 or $5."
One of the allures of this system for Stevenson is the online availability. Parents can check the balance, replenish the account or even establish a per-day limit or designate where the money can be spent.
"As a parent, I don't see any disadvantage to it, only pluses," Dickinson said. "It's been very well-received by everyone I've talked to."
At Stevenson, where the food service does $1.4 million in annual business, the card is expected to reduce the cost and provide greater control in collecting, processing and handling cash. The district has to make arrangements to have money dropped off and picked up by an armored car, which is labor-intensive and exposes the district to risk, according to Mark Michelini, director of business services.
New and improved
For years, Stevenson has sought to replace its aging student identification equipment. The district became aware of Blackboard's products and went to DePaul to investigate.
DePaul uses the system at its downtown campus and in Naperville and Lake Forest. …