Technical Applications Coordinator Lori Hill says her team of 36 manages more than 100,000 devices for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Jan 21 2022

Scaling Small K–12 IT Teams Through People, Technology, Processes and Partners

Schools with small IT teams share the strategies and technology they use to successfully manage tens of thousands of mobile devices.

While IT departments provide essential day-to-day services, sometimes students, teachers and even other staff may not realize the huge feats these teams accomplish with a relatively small group.

They also may not know how these smaller teams are able to provide immediate help desk support and fast turnaround times for repairs on tens of thousands of mobile devices.

It’s not magic — it’s strategic. Districts such as Virginia Beach City Public Schools say they are successfully managing their mobile devices at scale through a mix of technology, processes and people.

Lori Hill leads a 36-person IT team that equips devices for some 63,000 students and 5,200 teachers across 86 VBCPS schools. Her team maintains 83,000 HP Chromebooks for students as part of a one-to-one initiative and about 20,000 Windows computers across the Virginia district, including 4,600 new HP notebooks for teachers.

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Among her staff are 11 field technicians who provide onsite support at the schools and three hardware repair technicians who make about 17,000 repairs on devices annually.

“Our team is efficient and does an amazing job,” says Hill, the district’s coordinator for technical applications. “And yet I can’t imagine managing this many devices without the tools we have in place.”

Relatively small IT teams are not unusual for K–12 districts, but today’s IT staff are managing more mobile devices than ever. For many districts, the pandemic drove a massive influx of Chromebooks and laptops, forcing districts to deploy one-to-one computing for remote learning.

“It’s been an explosion of devices and applications,” confirms Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. “We’ve seen a huge infusion of money for devices and hotspots through the Federal Communications Commission’s $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund. It puts enormous pressure on IT divisions.”

RELATED: What do K–12 admins need to know about federal funding?

In Virginia Beach, Hill and her team rely on software such as asset management tools to keep track of devices, remote administration tools for remote troubleshooting, mobile device management software to configure and update devices, and IT service desk software to manage help desk tickets.

Some districts also augment their IT staff with school staff — and in some cases, students — who assist with support and repairs. Students at one high school in Perry Township Schools in Indiana receive course credit for repairing Chromebooks.

For Omdia Analyst Adam Holtby, these are best practices. “People practices, technology, processes and partners will all be vital in helping educational institutions overcome the challenges associated with enabling and empowering a more mobile-first digital learning environment,” he says.

IT Staff Tackles Troubleshooting and Problem Solving

At VBCPS, Hill says her small team is able to manage thousands of devices thanks to a teamwork ethic and because they take an all-hands-on-deck approach.

When COVID-19 forced schools to transition to remote learning, students and parents who had Chromebook problems bombarded the district with frantic calls. Hill quickly augmented the district’s customer support call center with her six-person field services team so they could fix issues immediately. They used a variety of remote tools, including Chromebook Remote DesktopGoogle MeetZoom and Windows Quick Assist, to remotely access and troubleshoot students’ devices.

“The team stepped up and assisted with those calls to make sure instruction wasn’t impacted,” she says. “We wanted to ensure first-call resolution.”

The IT staff uses multiple technology tools to simplify management and improve efficiency. Last fall, as students returned to in-person learning, her team provisioned 9,000 new Chromebooks. To speed the process, they plugged in an Arduino controller that runs a script, and it automatically enrolled the devices.

MORE ON EDTECH: Easily deploy and manage new devices for K–12 districts.

For Windows laptops, they use cloud-based Microsoft Intune, a mobile device and application management tool. Hill’s team can remotely configure the devices and upload applications and software updates to teachers’ laptops, she says. The district also recently began using Salesforce Service Cloud for help desk ticketing.

Hill also has another source of support. Since the launch of its one-to-one initiative in 2017, the district has supplemented the IT staff with a school staff member who provides first-tier tech support at each school. When these technology support technicians can’t solve a problem, they escalate it to Hill’s field technicians, she says.

3 Tips for Managing Mobile Devices


Screens and keyboards are the two parts that get damaged the most. For the current school year, Hill has fully stocked her shelves with 3,000 spare screens, 3,000 spare keyboards, and extra batteries, charging ports and headphone jacks.

VBCPS’ three-person hardware repair staff fixes devices in three days, on average, which is more than three times faster than an outside vendor who did it for a year, she says.

“Now I have more control over how things are done, who does what and when they do it,” Hill says.

They use an asset management tool to track workflow. When Chromebooks need repair, the technology support technicians at each school provide loaners while they make the repairs.

Asset Management Is Key to Maintaining Staff and Student Devices

“Asset management is critical for us to support a large number of devices with limited staff. In order to quickly support devices, it is imperative that we know where they are and what their history is,” says Perry Township Schools CTO Matthew Willey.

DIVE DEEPER: How can asset tagging save K–12 schools money?

The Marion County, Ind., district furnishes 16,400 students and 1,000 teachers with Chromebooks and has several thousand spares. As part of the management process, Willey and his team of 20 proactively track down lost or stolen Chromebooks. Last year, because students learned remotely, they did not return the Chromebooks when the school year ended. When students returned to in-person learning last fall, nearly 1,000 devices were missing.

Willey and his team regularly check the student information system (SIS) to see which students have withdrawn from the district. They use the Securly app to track the GPS coordinates and remotely shut the devices off. When people try to turn on the devices, “it locks the devices. They can’t do anything,” Willey says.

Their efforts worked in the fall. They learned some missing Chromebooks were sold to pawn shops; others were found near apartment building dumpsters.

Matthew Willey
Asset management is critical for us to support a large number of devices with limited staff.”

Matthew Willey CTO, Perry Township Schools

Similarly, VBCPS used to take inventory twice a year, but now Hill’s team monitors school inventory monthly. Specifically, the IT staff checks student enrollment on the SIS and compares it with the data in the asset management tool.

If there are discrepancies, the IT team uses a third tool: CDW’s Amplified IT Gopher Pack software, which provides data on each device’s use. If a device is missing, Hill’s staff uses the Gopher software to check the date of the last login and who was using the device, so they can try to recover it.

Fine-Tuning K–12 Device Management

Chippewa Valley Schools, which has 16,000 students and 2,000 employees in Clinton Township, Mich., launched its one-to-one initiative this year. A few months into it, Technology Director Sarah Monnier-White has several strategies for managing the fleet of devices.

The district increased the number of Dell and HP Windows 10 laptops from about 5,000 devices to 17,000 this year. It also furnished each teacher with a new Surface tablet.

Monnier-White increased her IT staff from 11 to 17 people, and they have been busy since school started in September, provisioning new computers and repairing existing devices. They also manage a desktop computer and interactive whiteboard in each of the district’s 800 classrooms as well as administrators’ desktops and laptops.

READ MORE: Interactive panels drive K–12 student engagement.

In addition, her team provides remote help desk support for virtual-only students. When needed, students call the help desk or submit online requests through a help desk ticketing system.

Her staff used Microsoft Intune to provision the new devices, which was a huge time saver, she says. “We literally got an Excel spreadsheet of serial numbers from the vendor. We uploaded it into Intune, and when we connected the computers to the internet, it automatically talked to our system, and uploaded our policies and the software we wanted installed,” she says.

She also augments her staff with library media clerks at each school, who’ve been trained on basic troubleshooting and will escalate issues to the eight-person help desk if needed.

The rest of her staff assists the help desk team when needed. When school started, for example, instructional trainers who typically focus on pedagogy helped with troubleshooting tasks. And when the help desk can’t solve issues, IT administrators step in to help.

Overall, Monnier-White is seeing what works and what doesn’t, and is fine-tuning her device management processes as she goes along. “We’re staying busy and working through it all,” she says.

Photography by Tyler Darden

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