To support 11 schools in Huntington County, Thomas Ashley looks for IT staff members who “know smart screens, notebooks and what Internet resources are available.”

Wanted: An Education Focus

Hiring trends show a demand for specialized techies and tech integration specialists.

Don't know much about history? Don’t know much biology? Then, you don’t know much about the hottest information technology job in the country: integrating K–12 curricula with technology.

School districts from New York to San Diego are on the hunt for so-called “technology integration specialists,” techies who can better leverage the 14.2 million computers the U.S. Census Bureau estimates were in use during the 2005–2006 school year in elementary and secondary school classrooms.

“Most IT directors, if they could truly have what they need, would have a technology integration specialist in every building,” says Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. “That is, someone who could really be there to help the teachers.”

Such specialists tend to come from the education ranks and learn technology as a secondary skill set.

“They don’t have to be able to manage or build networks,” says Thomas Ashley, director of technology for Indiana’s 11-school Huntington County Community School Corp. “They need to know smart screens, notebooks and what Internet resources are available.”

Well–Rounded

Richland School District 2 in Columbia, S.C., which first documented its need for technology integrated specialists in 1998, now has three such workers on its
26-member IT staff.

“Anyone who works within our IT team has to value and appreciate education as a whole,” says Tom Cranmer, IT director for the district, which serves 23,000 students. “Everyone has to believe in the ‘end product,’ that is, a graduate who exits our schoolhouse doors trained and armed to compete in the 21st century. To think otherwise would be, in my view, dysfunctional.”

Still, technology integration specialists in Richland and elsewhere have to have some computer smarts. Most often that includes knowing how to troubleshoot printers, run Microsoft Excel and the like.

For example, integration job applicants in New York, the nation’s largest school district, with nearly 1.1 million students, are asked not only to be familiar with education theories in teaching problem-solving skills but “how to design and manipulate databases and general customized reports,” according to guidelines issued by the New York State Education Department in 2003.

More of a techie than a teacher? Not to worry. The complexity of school district networks requires more high-skilled workers than ever before.

In particular, technicians familiar with wide area networks, data warehousing, Internet telephony, Microsoft .Net and distance learning are increasingly in demand.

“Anyone who works within our IT team has to value and appreciate education as a whole,” says Richland School District 2’s Tom Cranmer.

Photo Credit: MILTON MORRIS

“With so much focus on data-driven instructional support for the curriculum people, including teachers, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in our sophistication of the kinds of data and information that we maintain, not only on students, but on teachers and our measurements of return on investment for professional development,” says Richland’s Cranmer. “So, we’re needing skill sets that include SQL Server for back-end data stores, application development skills and, in our case, talents in the .Net area.”

Of these, expertise in databases and networking are the most often cited unmet need by school district IT administrators.

For databases, that’s because districts are now required by federal, state and sometimes local law to maintain vast stores of data on student and teacher performance. That often means warehousing digital copies of standardized tests, medical records and curricula.

School districts, in general, are “very good at collecting data but not so good at extracting it,” Huntington County’s Ashley says. “We have a tremendous need for a data person and a data warehouse. But I’ve been stalling purchasing a data warehouse until we can hire someone dedicated to work on it.” For now, Ashley says he has the need but not the budget.

Need It — Now

Nationally, the need for better record keeping and extraction is likely to become urgent, due to the expected reauthorization later this year of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind.

The legislation requires more testing — third-through eighth-graders must be tested each year in reading and math; and next year, in science — and more reports. A district’s failure to meet state-defined proficiency levels and produce records showing a concerted effort to make improvements can result in funding cuts and school closures.

Meanwhile, networking expertise also is eagerly sought. While some school districts, such as the Collier County School District in Florida, do so to accommodate their rapidly expanding K–12 school districts, others, such as the Jurupa Unified School District in Riverside, Calif., do so to meet federal E-Rate telecommunications requirements. E-Rate, formally known as the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, provides discounts to assist U.S. schools and libraries in obtaining affordable telecommunications and Internet access.

Jurupa Unified School District, which in August was searching for a network manager, wants to update its WAN and deploy new Internet Protocol telephones and private branch exchange switches, according to its “Technology Plan for 2005–2008.”

That means even if you’re a techie who doesn’t know much about geography or trigonometry — but knows exactly how to lay fiber-optic cable — what a wonderful world a school district can be.

IT Basics Now Too Basic

Which best describes your information technology skill set: Visual Basic or computer basics? If you know Microsoft Visual Basic, you have a bright future ahead in the K–12 technology market. If you only have computer basics, however, things may be looking a little dim.

Tech skills that previously befuddled most teachers — for example, rebooting desktop PCs, simple networking and printer troubleshooting — are now common knowledge. And with ever-tighter budgets, teachers are often expected to perform such tasks themselves.

“Our processes have become so standard that needing very high ‘component level’ skills have diminished,” says Tom Cranmer, IT director for Richland School District 2 in Columbia, S.C. “Unless the computer is just plain broken hardware-wise, today’s ghosting or re-imaging usually takes care of software problems.”

<p>TOD MARTENS</p>
Oct 31 2006

Sponsors