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A Bumpy Road to a District Technology Initiative

Our school district is in the northwest corner of Missouri, we have 2350 students and approximately 300 staff throughout the district.  Our technology journey started on a very bumpy road.  The current journey began 4 years ago with the retirement of the Director of Technology.  A search for a new director culminated in the hiring of a person who had never worked in the education field before. The person had been in the field of technology most of his life but worked in the corporate world his entire career. The approach of the new leader was similar to that of taking a long and very expensive trip. Some very important questions had to be asked.

Where do we want to end up?

Over the first couple weeks the new technology director spent most of his time asking questions to try to understand where the district wanted to go on this vast technology trip. He spent time with the superintendent, building admins, teachers and board members to get ideas and to put together a roadmap for the journey.  It was decided that the district needed to have more devices in the hands of the students and that staff wanted to have better equipment to prepare and facilitate instruction.  That was a pretty vague scope statement but it was a start.

Where are we right now?

The next step in planning a journey is to determine the starting point, if you don’t know where you are it is very difficult to get where you want to go.  The next few weeks were spent doing an inventory of current student and staff equipment.  The findings were quite devastating to the district leadership.  We were looking at 5 students per device and that was really a stretch when considering that many computers weren’t being used because they were so slow and couldn’t connect to the internet. Our staff devices were an average of 10 years old and out of 175 classrooms we had 19 different models of projectors, most of which could only be used with the lights completely off and windows covered to create an extremely dark room.  Our infrastructure was capable of handling the current technology but would have to be totally reworked to accommodate the upcoming journey.

Where do we go from here?

The technology department was asked to put together a plan to take the district into the future of edtech. It looked as though it would take as much as 5 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a full technology upgrade. In short the director proposed the following 5 year plan.

Year 1: Upgrade most of the network infrastructure in the district with new switches and WiFi access points. Increase the bandwidth for the district from 100mbps to 500 mbps.

Year 2: Upgrade the staff equipment with Windows laptop computers and new interactive projectors in every classroom.

Year 3 – 5: Provide student devices in a 1 to 1 ratio for the entire district using Chromebooks and rolling them out first at the high school, then the middle school and finally at the elementary schools.

The board was impressed with the plan but was not sure how to make it all work financially.  The director proposed using a lease purchase option for making the financial investment over a five year period for the staff and student equipment starting in year 2 and moving into year 3 and subsequent years.  The board liked the plan with one exception, they didn’t want to roll out the student Chromebooks over a 3 year period, we went 1 to 1 district wide the 3rd year of the plan.

Lessons Learned

  1. In that third year of the plan the district also implemented a new student information system and a new learning management system.  Hindsight would say that was probably a bit much for one year.  There were teachers thinking it might be time to retire by the end of the first quarter of the year.  The good news is we didn’t lose any teachers because of all the changes and the 4th year has been much simpler and pain free.
  2. The technology director and the curriculum coordinator are working together to make decisions for the district to enhance 21st century learning and instructional methods.
  3. A large piece of the plan and the most overlooked piece was the professional development for staff.

Overall, the entire project has been quite rewarding, successful and most of all has improved student engagement and staff use of technology in the classroom.

Jeff Martin
Savannah R-III School District
Savannah, MO