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Articles: Networks

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.

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.

As Bailey Mitchell, chief technology and information officer in the 36,000-student Forsyth County (Ga.) School District, describes it, the way in which the school system made decisions about technology in years past was inefficient and pretty dysfunctional. "We'd go out and buy something, but if we didn't ask anyone if it was instructionally relevant, it might not be used," he says. "On the other hand, administrators in the academic and accountability departments would make a decision about something that might work for them and then lay it on the technology people to figure it out.

There is a fine line between making student data available to influence data-driven decisions and still respecting student privacy. For this reason, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a new initiative to elevate the importance of safeguarding the collection, use and disclosure of student records. With this new initiative comes a new position, chief privacy officer, and Kathleen Styles is the first.

The Connect All Schools Initiative has an ambitious goal: To lInk all schools internationally by 2016. The campaign has been months in the making, although it officially launched March 19 at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, a professional development conference that brought together nearly 10,000 educators. The overarching objective is for schools to reach out to students in other countries to collaborate on projects, discuss global issues, and learn with each other—not simply about each other.

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.

The physical infrastructure and capabilities of K12 information technology have undergone a transformation over the years, according to "The Future of Information Technology." This white paper, released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) on Nov. 12, explains how K12 IT departments have evolved and where they will be a decade from now.

The paper notes four major trends changing the role of the CTO:

Until this year, the Oregon Department of Education was running a central portal of thousands of learning resources that required all teachers and students in the state to have an e-mail address as authentication for security purposes. Because many districts didn't offer student e-mail, however, the learning materials were not available to everyone.

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients, the latest computer technology that is even thinner and lower maintenance. Zero clients, small silver portals the size of a Big Mac box, differ from thin clients in that they have no internal processing at all. "It is more or less a portal between the user and the keyboard," says Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools (WPS ). "It records key strokes back to a virtual machine which is running securely in the data center."

The release of the highly anticipated National Broadband Plan, scheduled for February 17, has been delayed, leaving advocates for broadband reform in suspense. In a letter to Congress on January 7, Chairman Julius Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requested an extension of one month to process the information the organization has gathered and to receive additional input from stakeholders. The FCC is creating the National Broadband Plan as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Administrators and information technology staff at Hudson Falls Central School District in Kingsbury, N.Y., found that individually managed computers were costing them an inordinate amount of time and money. This small suburban school district uses 1,400 desktop computers and its IT staff needs to continually update software, fix problems and keep settings consistent. According to Brian Becker, director of education for Hewlett- Packard, who works with the Hudson Falls district, IT support needs were "overwhelming" the staff.

For the Tangipahoa Parish School System, federal stimulus funds provided a unique opportunity to get some new computers for its classrooms. But for the district, located about 40 miles northwest of New Orleans, upgrading systems wasn’t a simple matter of buying new, previously unaffordable machines.

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