Apr 13 2009

Daunting Yet Vital IT Tasks for Schools

Like kids eating their vegetables, IT leaders cite their least favorite tasks that they know are necessary to their schools' success.

Like kids eating their vegetables, IT leaders cite their least favorite tasks that they know are necessary to their schools’ success.

Jim Ratchford loves his job. Like many of his peers, the seattle Public schools cIo is thrilled to have the opportunity to make a difference in children’s education by utilizing and applying technology.

“It’s a joy,” says Ratchford, who started in his role as IT chief about a year ago after working for Walt Disney Internet Group. “When I arrived here, there were so many opportunities to make improvements,” such as improving the school district’s 62 percent graduation rate.

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Still, there are certain aspects of the daily grind that Ratchford bemoans. In his case, it’s the inability of end users to clearly define what their computing needs are.

“When I got here, what I noticed almost immediately out of the gate was that customers had needs, but they couldn’t tell you what their needs were,” Ratchford says. They couldn’t tell if they needed additional computing capacity, for instance, or describe their problems in getting a student information system to work.

To better understand users’ requirements, Ratchford and his 90 staff members have informal meetings with the faculty and administration and listen carefully to what their technical challenges are in order “to determine what their real needs are,” he says.

Having to Say No

Joe Abrego, executive director of technology at West Contra Costa Unified School District in Richmond, Calif., says his most unpleasant chore is having to shoot down requests from teachers who want to bring their own equipment into the classroom or purchase technology they’d discovered for an educational pursuit.

Even though Abrego has to say no to most of these requests because of budget constraints or security issues, he encourages members of his 19-person IT staff to try to utilize existing equipment whenever possible to meet the needs of its educators and help support the district’s 31,000 students.

Task Masters

Norris Roberts, director of technology for the Jennings School District in missouri, spends extra hours on administrative tasks such as poring over Program Integrity assurance reviews to support the school district’s e-Rate funding requests.

Roberts applied for funding assistance last year to help support the rollout of a new fiber optic WAN, a new phone system, a new LaN and a wireless infrastructure. he figures he’s devoting up to 80 percent of his time to audits and reviews for all of these funding requests. “When you go through the selective review process, I’m easily putting in 12-hour days,” Roberts says.

But the payoff is worth it, he says. The school district is receiving a whopping $1.7 million in funding to support these projects. “It’s awesome to get this kind of money,” says Roberts.

The Top of the List

Almost everyone has some task at work that automatically moves to the top of his or her to-do list simply because it is enjoyable.

These four IT directors share what’s best about their jobs:

  • Strategizing and figuring out the most cost-effective ways to implement technology — Norris Roberts, director of technology, Jennings School District, Missouri
  • Providing easy fixes on tech support issues for educators — Joe Abrego, executive director, technology, West Contra Costa Unified School District, California
  • Having an opportunity as an IT leader to make academics better — Jim Ratchford, CIO, Seattle Public Schools

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