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Articles: Infrastructure

In 2007, a three-school district in New Hampshire started to see the first signs that its technology infrastructure was just too small for the equipment it had purchased. With 1,600 students and 300 staff members, the SAU 27-Litchfield (N.H.) School District was struggling to keep up with the increasing demands on its outdated network—from employee email, to online student testing, to multimedia applications.

11/2011 to 01/2012

Continuous training is vital to the success of any district information technology plan, because, unlike large corporations, districts don’t have specialized information technology personnel, says Dwayne Alton, director of information technology support at Lee County Public Schools in Florida.

Lee County Public Schools in Fort Myers, Fla., performed a full migration of its data center, complete with new storage solutions, more than three years ago. With a $500,000 budget for the conversion—one-third of what surrounding districts had spent for similar initiatives—Lee County couldn’t afford bells and whistles.

Readers spoke out in the largest numbers yet for District Administration’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products awards. The DA editorial staff spent days sifting through hundreds of submissions and learning about new and innovative education products nominated by readers. Nominations were accepted via the DA Web site from March through Sept. 15, 2011. Each nomination required a testimonial from a school administrator to allow us to understand how the product specifically impacted a school or district. Some products received more than 70 unique nominations.

As districts rely less on isolated K12 data and more on digital delivery for academic and business needs, chief technology officers have a greater need for interoperability standards that allow them to assemble multiple, cloud-based tools and services into one, according to CoSN's Interoperability Standards for K-12 Education primer.

Over 150 school districts in Illinois have teamed up to share software and technology through IlliniCloud, a one-of-its-kind nonprofit cloud-computing consortium for schools. Jim Peterson, IlliniCloud's chief technology officer and Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools' technology director, started IlliniCloud in 2009 with the help of technology company CDW. Three data centers, located in Belleville, Bloomington and DeKalb, house computer systems, backup power supplies and security devices.

In the 1990s, school districts invested all they could in desktop computers that had plenty of horsepower, since applications and data were all stored locally on individual machines. By the 2000s, the individual machines had become less critical as districts moved to server-based networks.

Transparency, student data and modernization have been on the forefront of Oklahoma State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi's mind since she began her job in January 2011. Upon her arrival, Barresi saw the state's education technology was lagging behind, to say the least. Barresi implemented a new email and phone system, which previously had messages received through snail mail and without conference-call capabilities.

The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) officially announced to the FCC on July 13 that it has identified additional monies to fund FY 2010 E-rate Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections) requests at the 80 percent discount level. Schools and libraries that are entitled to 80 percent E-rate discounts serve some of the country's most financially strapped communities.

Administrators shouldn't only look outside their districts for something new when researching possible products or technology to purchase; solutions can sometimes be found in unexpected places. "When we get a request to purchase something new, such as curriculum software, we do a thorough examination of what we already have to make sure we don't duplicate functionality," says Roderick Matthews, director of information technology in the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Departments of education at the state level with high-quality longitudinal data systems in place have doubled within the last year, according to the sixth annual data for action report released by the Data Quality Campaign, an organization that encourages policymakers to use high-quality education data to improve student achievement. The report shows "unprecedented" progress, with 24 states having implemented the 10 state actions to ensure effective data use standards set by the data Quality campaign. The organization predicts all states will have complete systems by September 2011.

"We want a grant for 20 computers."

This was my directive from district administrators nearly 25 years ago. As a district grants specialist, I dutifully wrote the grant for computers so that the schools would be prepared for the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s, the computers themselves were the crux on the federal grant application.

Most of us are familiar with the damaging consequences of computer viruses such as freezing worms and Trojan horses. Another set of devious hacking forces, however, known as botnets, have caused districts to re-evaluate their online security measures. A botnet is a network of computers controlled remotely by hackers and infected with malware. Unlike other viruses, botnets do not run on autopilot once they gain access. They infiltrate computers, usually via e-mail, and they take advantage of the affected computers' Web browser vulnerabilities while spreading spam and viruses.

Schools across the nation have begun the transition toward cloud computing, and administrators knowledge and ease of use with cloud services ranges from early beginners to the very advanced. A new nonprofit organization, eduCloud, plans to level the playing field by developing a set of best practices for the development of K12 content, tools and assessments hosted in the cloud.