Sometimes it feels like a school district IT department doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Yes, technology is more a part of today’s education than ever before, but when tech is running smoothly, it is easy to forget IT departments and the staff that keep the infrastructure running exist.
In my six years as the director of technology for the Pittsburg Independent School District, a town about 120 miles east of Dallas, we’ve gone through many changes, not to mention what the pandemic put us through. But when COVID-19 forced us all to remote learning nearly overnight, my six-person team was able to move 2,500 students to a one-to-one program rapidly and quite successfully.
As I look back, I realize there were numerous factors contributing to the team’s stellar work. What follows are a few points that might help other IT departments better handle future challenges while generally improving operations for the long term.
Support from Administration is Vital
My superintendent, Terry Waldrep, has a degree in computer science, and the school board president, Greg Miller, is a technology company senior manager with a PhD in information technology. In some situations, IT directors might fear being second-guessed by leaders like these, but here it is quite the opposite. While some folks might perceive that fixing an IT problem or distributing new hardware is as simple as knowing what button to push, both individuals understand the complexities of IT and the importance of a planning and systems for an IT department.
For instance, when our district needed to implement multi-factor authentication to update ransomware policies, I knew the technical change was relatively simple. But when communicating the importance of this new policy and training staff, I feared resistance. Our school board president not only understood why we were taking this step, but he offered his expertise as a resource if needed to convince skeptical staff about the change. It’s very helpful to have someone, both at the board level and the executive level, who understands IT and is equally invested in its success as my team and I are.
Listen to Your Employees
When our schools transitioned overnight to one-to-one learning and we had to create a help desk for students, I was worried about burning out the staff. Not only was our department physically handling computers for students and staff during the early days of the virus, but each staff member was being pulled in many directions at the same time.
To help them, I secured approval to hire a help desk aide for the entire department to organize the help desk. This seemingly small addition helped immensely. Not only did it validate their importance as individuals and as part of a team, it reset the tasks for our six-person group. They became more effective, better organized, and less stressed. Never forget that switching in and out of different work modes is costly; eliminating inefficiencies makes the whole department greater than the sum of its parts.
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