DeKalb County School District is working to bring digital equity to every student.

Apr 11 2023

Strong Lifecycle Management Plans Can Support Successful One-to-One Programs in K–12

To guarantee digital equity, districts must look beyond devices and create a management plan for procuring, supporting and funding replacements. 

For the past 20 years, DeKalb County School District has hosted a technology fair. But this year’s fair was different, and district CIO Monika Davis noticed.

The fair, which normally attracts about 300 students from across the Georgia district, drew more than 700 this year. Davis, who loves data, has a hunch as to why.

“They have access to computing devices, and they have access to digital learning resources,” she says. “Some of the projects we saw were absolutely fabulous, and they were using their Chromebooks to discuss them.”

The projects ran the gamut of technology and gave students an opportunity to show off their tech mastery using video, audio, robotics, programing, 3D modeling and more.

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Georgia School District’s IT Roadmap

The dramatic rise in DeKalb’s technology fair attendance is a direct result of the district’s Digital Dreamers program. The program launched in 2017 to bridge the digital equity gap and provide each student with a modern, tech-rich learning environment so they can develop the skills needed for future success, Davis says.

At the heart of that environment are student devices. The district’s program initially saw one device for each high school and middle school student and one for every two elementary school students. Now, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is fully one-to-one.

RELATED: Schools break down silos with tech-enabled study spaces.

“Everybody must be on the same page and understand how critical devices are. No device, and you impact learning, period,” Davis says. “So, for our district, we are committed to making sure that every child has access to a device.”

The initiative goes beyond simply buying a Chromebook for every student. But, “once you start there, the rest is logistics,” Davis says. “It’s making sure you have a strong device management program in place.”

Underpinning DeKalb’s device management program is the IT Division’s comprehensive IT roadmap that Davis spearheaded. It will enable long-term device access going forward. The roadmap includes plans for empowering DeKalb’s digital village and enhancing device management, network and data center infrastructure, cybersecurity and physical safety, and digital learning systems.

The plan also includes providing professional development to teachers and internet connectivity to students in need.


Watch and learn how Dekalb school district is innovating change with its Digital Dreamer's program.


Schools Take a Global View of Their One-to-One Programs

While lifecycle management includes tech support and repair services, it’s also about sustaining the program by having enough funds to replace outdated student devices. That’s no small feat in an era of declining school budgets. In 2022, flushed with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, DeKalb purchased 64,000 new Acer Chromebooks to replace devices that had reached their end of life. 

Today, Davis is already looking ahead to the next refresh cycle. Voters recently renewed a 1 percent sales tax for education, a portion of which will help pay for new student devices in the next go-round, she says. Meanwhile, district leaders are discussing whether to add new devices to the operating budget.

When it comes to conversations about sustainability, DeKalb has a lot of company. During the remote learning phase of the pandemic, one-to-one computing adoption soared across the country, says Amy McLaughlin, cybersecurity project director at the Consortium for School Networking.

While that allowed districts to advance their digital equity goals, it also came with ongoing management and technology costs. As a result, many are tackling mobile device lifecycle management on a large scale for the first time, from procuring, configuring and deploying devices to having a team track, support and repair them.

Amy McLaughlin
Devices are no longer a luxury like they were 10 years ago. They are now must-haves. It’s essential to how we educate, and in order to be effective, the devices have to be up to date.”

Amy McLaughlin Cybersecurity Project Director, Consortium for School Networking

Outsourcing Configuration and Repairs Frees Up District IT Staff

To sustain a one-to-one program and ensure students continue to have equal access to digital resources, IT leaders must replace student devices every three to four years. However, that requires districts to bake the cost for device replacement into their budgets, McLaughlin says.

“Devices are no longer a luxury like they were 10 years ago. They are now must-haves,” she says. “It’s essential to how we educate, and in order to be effective, the devices have to be up to date. Organizations must commit to modern devices to support diversity, equity and inclusion and to support student success.”

One way school districts can manage their devices efficiently is to rely on technology partners for assistance. DeKalb did just that in 2022 by turning to CDW Education to purchase those Acer Chromebooks, configure and deploy the devices and provide ongoing repair services.

DIG DEEPER: Here’s how schools can get the most out of their federal funds.

With a tight window of only two and a half weeks to complete the project, CDW worked with Acer to quickly round up the Chromebooks, then brought in its services partner Lexicon Tech Solutions in Georgia to do the configuration work. 

Lexicon staffers provisioned each device, including network settings. They then etched the district’s logo on each device, applied asset tags for tracking and installed a case for protection.

Lexicon also handles repairs, which frees up district technicians to focus on tech support at each school site, Davis says.

With 92,000 students across 138 schools and centers, DeKalb also bought spares to ensure students are never without a Chromebook when their device needs a repair.

“Student textbooks and other content are digital, and it’s on that device, so if they don’t have that, learning is compromised,” Davis says.

One North Carolina District's Secret to a Sustainable 1:1 Program 

In North Carolina, Lenoir County Public Schools is in its eighth year of running a successful one-to-one program that deploys 10,000 devices, including tablets for 8,200 students and laptops for teachers.

Before its leaders and the school board embraced one-to-one to improve education and digital equity, Lenoir was a low-performing district, says Charles White, director of media and technology.

“Our leadership wanted to give students the same resources as larger, more affluent counties,” White says.

EXPLORE: Schools share creative strategies for refreshing aging student devices.

District leaders spent two years studying the feasibility of a one-to-one initiative and learned that North Carolina districts that relied solely on grant funding failed to sustain their programs. 

To ensure success, Lenoir County Public Schools takes a slice out of the annual budget of nearly every department to pay for the devices, White says.

The district then acquires the devices on a four-year lease. After the third year, the IT department sells the devices for a percentage of the original price. That pays off the fourth year of the lease and serves as seed money to acquire new devices, White says.

Another secret to their success: “Digital learning specialists have made a world of difference,” White says. “They are on the front line to help teachers and students, and they’re the reason this program is so successful.”


The percentage of middle schools that had adopted one-to-one computing by 2022, up from 69 percent in 2020 and leading the K–12 segment

Source: Consortium for School Networking, 2022 EdTech Leadership Survey Report, April 2022

How Mobile Device Management Software Can Centralize Support

To manage devices more easily and effectively, many districts use mobile device management solutions to remotely deploy software, upload security patches and track devices. Lenoir County Public Schools uses Jamf’s MDM software.

White and his team upload educational apps to each device and enforce security policies, such as preventing students from downloading their own apps, he says: “We lock it down so it’s instructionally focused.”

Similarly, Academy Independent School District in Little River Academy, Texas, uses the Google Admin console to set up its students’ 1,650 Acer Chromebooks with apps and extensions.

During state assessments, the tech team can remotely apply security settings using the Google Admin console so students can access only the test, says Jacki Wright, Academy ISD’s instructional technology specialist, who manages student devices.

READ MORE: Schools with small IT teams turn to strategies and technology for device management.

Academy ISD Keeps Student Device Repairs In-House

Districts have different strategies to repair and maintain their mobile devices. Lenoir County Public Schools’ IT staff fixes simple issues, like broken headphone jacks, but uses a third-party repair company when the damage is more extensive, White says.

In contrast, Academy ISD’s IT staff does most of its repairs, Wright says. The Chromebooks used by students in grades two through 12 are under warranty for the first year, so newer devices are sent to the manufacturer for repairs. The IT department fixes older devices in-house.

The 1,800-student district, which started one-to-one in 2016, sets aside every year to upgrade a portion of its devices.

K–12 Educators Say One-to-One Empowers Students

At the end of the day, district IT leaders say a strong lifecycle management plan has the trickle-down effect of making a positive impact on students.

“We want students to use technology in purposeful ways, to create artifacts of their learning,” Wright says. “How can that be done if they don’t have access to technology? Our scholars engage in technology-rich learning that will benefit them within and beyond our classroom walls.”

In Georgia, the Digital Dreamers program is giving its students, 70 percent of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the tools they need to pursue their career dreams, Davis says.

“It’s about the organic use of technology to support teaching and learning,” she says. “It’s about creating a powerful learning environment so we can empower our students to dream.”

Photography by Matt Odom

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