May 05 2022

How a California K–12 District Decentralized Its IT Support

Val Verde Unified School District strengthened ed tech support and advanced its core IT department thanks to a network of tech integration experts.

In the late 1990s, a computer virus shut down Val Verde Unified School District. The only solution at the time was to take a floppy disk to each computer at each school building. In those days, the IT team comprised just six people, but the district was back up and running in only two days’ time.

It was all possible thanks to a team of tech integration experts, which the district has used to decentralize IT support to its school campuses for about 22 years.

“We have 61 technology integration experts located across the district,” says Val Verde USD’s Superintendent Michael McCormick. “That’s at least one at every school site.”

“These are teachers who are teaching their own classes. But one of the things we learned with innovation is that people don’t need 30 minutes of training, they need two minutes or a minute to get them over the hump,” he adds.

Val Verde USD has seen many benefits since decentralizing its IT support team in this way. The program has helped teachers, the IT department and the tech integration experts themselves.

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Tech Integration Experts Boost Teacher Confidence

Tech integration experts who also work in the classroom can more easily help the other teachers in their building.

“It’s one teacher talking to another teacher; they share a common language,” McCormick says. “There’s also a vulnerability that they can express between one another. That’s very powerful.”

The result is that more teachers feel confident using technology. They also feel more confident asking for help when they need it or admitting they don’t know how to do something.

“There’s a lot of psychological safety with the idea of having a teacher or two or three who are tech integration experts build those relationships with teachers,” McCormick says.

District Rewards a Passion for Tech Integration

It’s no secret that teachers are busy, or that helping colleagues during their planning period could stretch tech integration experts thin. However, the educators chosen to support IT in this way are already interested in technology. At Val Verde USD, they’re paid a stipend when they take the position.

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Move into a technology position in your district with these expert tips.

“It’s a way of acknowledging what many of them would be doing just because of their passion for working with technology integration,” says McCormick. “The stipend covers their time at the beginning of the year, when they’re coming in early before everybody else, and the meetings that they have on a monthly basis.”

At the beginning of the school year, Phil Harding, a technology integration specialist and Certified CTO through California IT in Education (CITE), brings together the team of tech integration experts to get the technology in the schools up and running. The goal is to make the first day of school run as smoothly as possible, at least as far as educational technology is concerned.

“During the summer before all the teachers return, I bring the whole team together for two days of bootcamp with the IT department,” Harding says. As a result, all of the tech is set up and ready to go when teachers arrive.

In terms of the demand on the experts’ time, Harding says, “our teachers are already doing a lot of different things. You have a teacher who’s the AVID coordinator and a teacher who is the basketball coach. It’s kind of the same thing.”

Mike McCormick
One of the things we learned with innovation is that people don’t need 30 minutes of training, they need two minutes or a minute to get them over the hump.”

Michael McCormick Superintendent, Val Verde Unified School District

Working in the district as a tech integration specialist also builds leadership skills for the team members, who are frequently promoted to higher positions at Val Verde USD.

“A lot of my tech integration experts have gone on to be our assistant principals, our principals,” Harding says. “Steve Coelho, our director of child welfare and attendance, was my first tech integration specialist. We’re a training ground for leadership in the district.”

Growth in the IT Department Is Technical and Advanced

Decentralized IT support also benefits the IT department at Val Verde USD. With fewer problems to troubleshoot, the core IT team is able to focus their attention on more technical tasks and upgrades in the district.

“This has afforded us the opportunity to invest in higher-level positions within the IT department,” McCormick says. “We’ve invested in building up the engineer level within the department so that we can focus on automating and creating audits.”

While the IT team occasionally needs to step in and solve technical issues that are beyond the tech integration specialists’ expertise, the two groups work well together.

“It takes a team to run a network, and if you think about how the modern world works, that’s exactly what our students are going step into one day,” Harding says.

KEEP READING: Prepare K–12 students for a digital future.

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