SAUK RAPIDS - This week, WJON is featuring several area superintendents to highlight their school district before the 2015-2016 school year kicks off.

Today, we highlight Dan Bittman, superintendent of Sauk Rapids-Rice schools. Bittman became superintendent back in 2010. Here's a look at some of the topics for the district this year:


Increased Technology and Devices in the Classroom

Last school year in December, every student at the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School was given a laptop to use for their schoolwork. Bittman says the laptops have made a positive difference and also increase access to technology for every student.

"We saw better engagement, better collaboration and more personalized learning. We know that regardless of what a child does when they leave, whether it's work, millitary, or postsecondary, they need to be able to navigate technology."

Over 1,000 Macbook Air laptops are being used by high school students. Sauk Rapids-Rice is using state money to fund the initiative, including about $900,000 it received to balance voter-approved referendums. The district is now planning to give devices to its 5th-8th grade students to use in school.


Increasing Enrollment/Facilities Study

The SRR district has seen growth of over 550 students over the last five years. Bittman previously said the district was starting to run into space concerns with close to 4,200 students enrolled.

"We know that we can't sustain the same level of growth that we've experienced over the last 5-6 years. We also have over 600 employees in the district, so we serve a large population in the community. We really do need to better understand what our community is looking for from the school district."

The district hired an architect earlier this year to study its buildings. The school board is expected to discuss the findings and possible solutions for it's facilities later in the fall.


Equalizing Student Opportunities

The SRR district won first place for the Nation's Magna Award in March for its efforts to increase access and opportunities for all students.

The district has done this through individual laptops in school, free breakfasts and slashing transportation costs. Bittman says they've also cut costs on athletic and activity fees.

"We've reduced those costs in our middle school by 50 percent. At our elementary level we have cut the amount of supplies families need to bring in half and at the high school we've reduced the fees for families by 25 percent."

The district also recently added athletics and activities for it's 6th grade students.


Biggest Challenge/Biggest Success

Since he became superintendent in 2010, Bittman says the biggest challenge for him and the district was financing.

"When I came in we were one of 14 school districts in the entire state without an operating referendum. That placed us as the second lowest funded district in the state."

Bittman says the district has made a big turnaround, thanks to the dedication and support from the entire community.

"Our community has been extremely involved and engaged and supportive. Now we're getting back to a place where we can provide a similar experience to kids as they do in other school districts."

-Tomorrow we will feature Scott Staska and the ROCORI district-

Dan Bittman discussing the upcoming school year. (Dan DeBaun, WJON)