As recipients of public funding and taxpayer dollars, K-12 school budgets and spending expenditures are under a microscope. Relief funds stemming from the pandemic have only sharpened the focus, particularly on infrastructure and technology investments. In my role as Chief Technology Officer at one of the nation’s largest school districts, Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), being accountable and ensuring we are making prudent financial decisions is a top priority for my team.
Striking a balance between innovation and sustainability is a challenge most school districts are facing. At HCPS, we have adopted three guiding principles that serve as the driving force and framework behind every IT decision—equity, efficiency, and excellence.
At HCPS, we are committed to delivering equitable learning opportunities to all students. From an infrastructure standpoint, that means eliminating the digital divides that exist within our own campus. Students in Building A must have access to the same level of high-quality Internet as students in Building B, regardless of a school building’s age or geographic location. If students in Building B experience frequent lag or downtime, their learning will be disrupted and result in learning loss.
To remedy this, we are building a future-ready wide area network (WAN) that can scale with user demand to deliver robust and reliable connectivity campus-wide. Additionally, we have been working with K-12 partners like ENA by Zayo to assess, design, and deploy upgraded wireless local area networks (WLAN) at several of our buildings.
Delivering Internet access beyond our buildings is also a priority. Currently, we assign mobile hotspots to students who need access outside of school. However, our long-term strategy is to research private LTE options and potentially build a sustainable and cost-effective LTE network to help address the access gaps that exist within our community.
Even though school districts have seen an influx of federal relief funds over the past few years, it is important for technology leaders to keep efficiency in mind as they create their technology strategies. At HCPS, sustainability is a key focus. We need to be responsible stewards and have a funding plan in place to ensure we can continue to support and fund the initiatives and technologies we are implementing to avoid wasting both time and money.
In just the past two years, we have created several efficiencies in our device management process. For example, we have switched to universal adapters to eliminate the time and expense it takes to locate and replace missing adapters for student devices. We are also seeking to become a 1.5-to-1 district in terms of student devices to eliminate delays when devices are broken. We want technology to enhance the learning experience, not impede it. If a student’s device stops working, that is disruptive. We need to reach the point where we can seamlessly address those types of issues to ensure learning continuity.
Additionally, like many other districts, we’ve experienced staffing shortage challenges. Partnering with vendors and using their engineering expertise to fill in the gaps has enabled our HCPS staff to focus on other time-sensitive matters and be more efficient with their time.
Finally, all the work we are doing at HCPS is being measured and judged by a standard of excellence. We are working together to build a future-ready digital learning environment that can support our students and staff—both inside and outside the classroom. That work entails eliminating a piecemeal approach to our infrastructure and implementing streamlined industry standards and rulesets. We have also created a training center for our employees to ensure they have the professional development resources they need to be successful in their careers.
By aligning our IT goals and strategies with the principles of equity, efficiency, and excellence we are ensuring that we are implementing sustainable and transformative changes that meet our district’s vision of preparing students for life.
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