According to Tony Spence, for a district to be ready for everything, it has to constantly be preparing for something. And maybe be a little bit lucky.
In this conversation with eSchool News, Spence, chief information officer at Muskego-Norway School District, details his district’s recent major AV implementation and how it dovetailed with his district’s decision to remain in-person during the COVID crisis.
eSN: When we look back at last spring, it was almost as if a lot of districts were in triage—just making basic connections, getting folks together, and things like state testing were out the window. Are there things from your experience that you think that your district will draw out of that and apply going forward?
TS: Yeah, for sure, although I think we’re yet to determine where we’re going to land from this in terms of best practice and opportunity of efficiency and other things—how we care for our people, how you respond in a crisis. I’m proud about how we were able to respond to all of our stakeholders, including our staff of all types, as well as our students and our families.
We can’t say, “We’ll get back to you in a couple of days.” We had decisions being made in a matter of minutes. And that’s where we really benefited from having continuity and contingency planning already in place for things like this, having resources already in place for something like this, having staff being trained for things like this. We didn’t train them for a pandemic, mind you, but we do train them to be versatile, to be mobile. And that certainly has paid off.
eSN: Even as a district that has been in-person throughout the pandemic, it can’t be the same technology set up that you had going back to school the year before, right? Talk a little bit about how you’ve had to adjust and pivot in terms of projection systems or other classroom tech setups.
TS: Well, sometimes you get lucky, and I’d like to say that there’s luck and leading, and maybe it’s a little bit of both. But in this case, we had done a rollout of new AV setups in all of our classrooms. And we have 85 percent of the classrooms fully completed. We put in Epson projection systems and they were great for us— the 100-inch screens. They’re very bright. We have a lot of brand-new buildings with bright windows and it’s not like we have any issues seeing these things. So we have the largest screen, the brightest screen, the most versatile, and that set the stage for what was going to be in-person instruction. But then it also set the stage for virtual because running all of our technologies through that meant that we could actually have what I consider it to be a very versatile setup.
eSN: Sounds great.
TS: Now, is anything easy? Of course not. We also added 4,000 document cameras into the classroom. And that allowed us to project what was happening in the classroom to those that were remote. Because oftentimes we have teachers who are teaching both to a virtual audience and an in-person audience at the same time, particularly at our high schools.
Obviously, this is a very difficult task. So our goal was to make sure that we had high-speed internet. We upgraded the 10 gig. We installed an entire fiber infrastructure within our district three years ago, and then connected to a much larger horseshoe around the entire metro area of Milwaukee. And so we drove that work so that we can have that connection at faster speeds. So now we have 10 gig, we have fast wifi into the schools.
And then we have other software utilities that allow us to use Google Meets to provide kind of a unified option for instruction. Now, Google meet is nothing cutting edge, but it’s worked really well for us. And that was a nice transition for staff to be able to go and not use a brand new tool that they were comfortable with because that’s what we defaulted to in the spring. And then we paid for the enterprise version of that going forward. So we did add new technologies. We definitely added more systems into our district for that arsenal that, uh, we’ll call it our, our toolbox of technologies, but overall it wasn’t a huge learning curve for most of the technologies that we had.