Nov 21 2023

Bolster K–12 Districts’ Capacity with Managed IT Services for Education

Between heightened technology demands and consistent budgetary shortfalls, many K–12 school districts are turning to managed IT services for education to bridge the gap.

K–12 IT teams have an ever-growing list of responsibilities and tasks crucial to ensuring that classrooms – not to mention entire school campuses — remain optimally equipped for teaching and learning. On top of that, school districts are notoriously strapped for money. On average, the U.S. puts 12.7 percent of public funding toward education: That’s below the international standard of 15 percent.

For public school districts around the nation, such low funding frequently results in staff shortages — including in IT departments. But in an educational landscape that’s increasingly dependent on constant connectivity, where curricula and technology are inextricably linked, there’s no margin for error and no time for IT work left undone.

As a result, districts increasingly turn to managed IT services for education, whether it’s network planning and design, information security or implementing a new unified communications architecture.

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“It’s a huge relief for us that there is a team that knows who we are, what our patterns are and what we can expect to see in our environment,” says Kristy Sailors, CTO at Eanes Independent School District near Austin, Texas. In a recent interview with EdTech, she spoke about her district’s investment in managed IT services. “They’re keeping an eye out for us so we can focus on everything else we need to do.”

Gaps Are Alleviated by Managed IT Services for Schools

Whether they’re looking to supplement staffing needs long-term or simply seeking support for a time-intensive technology implementation, today’s K–12 IT teams increasingly find themselves juggling workloads that outweigh their capacity and expertise.

Because most K–12 IT departments don’t have a resident network design expert, managed services can prove particularly crucial for short-staffed teams that want to improve or overhaul their network infrastructure. At Val Verde Unified School District in California, managed IT services have been a vital resource. “We bring them in to help us design architecture and network upgrades,” says Matt Penner, director of information and instructional technology at Val Verde USD.

LEARN MORE: Val Verde Unified School District superintendent shares tech insights.

“Of our four engineers, two are junior, two are senior, and none of them really have the bandwidth to constantly be caught up on the latest and greatest of everything,” Penner adds. “So, we bring in managed service providers all the time to help design these things and teach us what we don’t know.”

Handle Disaster-Necessitated Upgrades with Managed Services

For the School District of Lee County, Fla., the need for constant connectivity and a reliable, strong network goes beyond traditional upgrades. In a state that spends six months every year braced for hurricanes and power outages, the value of high-capacity network infrastructure and flexible unified communications platforms can’t be overstated. Recognizing this, and the potentially catastrophic disruptions that often accompany a natural disaster, the district has invested heavily in bolstering its network architecture.  

“We were ground zero for a Category 5 hurricane last year,” says Dwayne Alton, CIO for Lee County Schools. “Because we are now completely IP-based, we can maintain our fiber connectivity. So, for the most part, we were able to maintain communications throughout the event and after.”

Of course, one of the nuances of disaster response and recovery is that organizations can go months or longer without needing to activate their DR plans, a reality that makes it impractical to dedicate a full-time staff resource to handle catastrophic situations. Instead, many districts — including Lee County — are investing in managed services to help them navigate through unexpected emergencies.

“We’re moving into using managed services for disaster recovery and response,” Alton says. “We’ve always had robust physical recovery capabilities, but now, if we’re hit with a major ransomware attack or something like that, we’ll be able to maintain business continuity.”

RELATED: Schools share how they bounced back from data disasters.

Managed IT Services Buoy Education’s Digital Future

As classrooms transitioned from the campus to the cloud, the demand for high-performance collaboration solutions — and robust, reliable networks to support them — proliferated.

“I hate to say it, but education can be pretty slow to adapt,” Alton says. “So, while people in IT or in business departments have been using videoconferencing forever, COVID-19 forced the rest of the world to move forward into that.”

Now, with students, teachers and staff back in the classroom, the demand that bloomed from the pandemic has persisted. With all the new technology comes an increased need for constant connectivity and a strong network. However, more technology doesn’t always translate to more IT staff to keep the new tech afloat, especially with state and federal pandemic relief dollars winding down.

Matt Penner
We might know we need help, but we don’t always know the questions to ask.”

Matt Penner Director of Information and Instructional Technology, Val Verde USD

In districts looking to fill the gap through managed services, Penner advises a careful approach that vets the vendor’s level of training, certification and expertise, and makes sure its experience and offerings align with a school’s needs.

“Something we always look for in a service provider is whether they’re constantly training their team, sending them to conferences, and keeping them up to date on the newest developments,” Penner says. “When we have a major project, especially something we’ve never done before, we might know we need help, but we don’t always know the questions to ask. We want a services provider who’s on the cusp of modern technology and how it operates, who can say, ‘This is what you need, and here’s how we can guide you.’”

Feodora Chiosea/Getty Images
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