“Lone Rangers” Do It All in Independent School IT Departments
If you need to talk to the IT staff at an independent school, you might end up reaching the same person for computer repair, ed tech decision-making and districtwide training, among many other tasks. Ashley Cross, director of education and content at ATLIS, calls this the “Lone Ranger” role, and it means wearing many different hats.
“Some departments can be tiny, with one person who’s wearing all the hats, and others can be four campuses with a whole team. That impacts everything from the management to the funding,” Cross says. Some independent schools are turning to artificial intelligence to fill gaps for those who are doing it all.
“It’s not only the technology for learning; it’s the technology of a business, running a school,” Lewellen says. These schools use software for financial aid, enrollment and donor management. “They are expected to be heavy ed tech experts and also heavy IT security experts.” Given this, training and education for tech leaders might need to be a bit more customized.
In public schools, the Certified Education Technology Leader certification is well known as a measure of a technology leader’s abilities and training. However, Lewellen noticed that many independent school tech leaders weren’t sitting for that exam, pointing to extensive differences in the needs and responsibilities of independent versus public school tech leaders. “It’s a whole other world,” Cross adds.
In response, ATLIS developed marketplace research on a separate credentialing program, set to launch in the new year.
Less Government Funding Means Different Restrictions
For some independent schools, the biggest perk of being independent (meaning they don’t take government funding) is that they aren’t subject to the same rules and regulations as public schools when it comes to technology.
In a recent presentation, Lewellen shared some of the legal differences independent school leaders should keep in mind:
- Do you accept E-rate funds? If so, consider how the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act might still be at play.
- Do you receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education? If so, don’t miss the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations. Federal funds might also mean you need to follow the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.
- Finally, consider HIPAA if you engage in electronic billing related to healthcare services, or have licensed clinicians at your schools who also hold confidential information in the role of a client-patient relationship.
Different regulations apply at the federal and state levels, so it’s important for IT professionals and admins at independent schools to understand what rules apply to their organizations.
“Some independent schools do not accept any federal funding because they believe there could be risk to their independence if they do, because then they’re subject to other privacy regulations,” Lewellen says, noting E-rate as an example.
Consider Protecting Sensitive Data, Even Without Regulations
While the government may not regulate independent school data in the same way it does for public schools, that doesn’t mean it’s not ethically important, Lewellen said in her presentation. She said schools should ask questions: Should we be assessing the personal data we collect? What are the risks associated with data. How is the data used? Lewellen and her team at ATLIS push school leaders to have a concrete answer to these queries.
She says explains that independent schools must be careful not to make headlines for lapses in following regulations for student data and privacy. In these instances, donations might hang in the balance.
Finally, she says, there is a “marketplace” dynamic: Parents expect independent schools to do everything public schools do and more.
High Expectations for a Targeted Student Population
In private school communities, where some families are paying $45,000 for kindergarten, Lewellen says there is a sense that families who donate want to have input in the education they are investing in.
“Those parents choose to make that investment in their kid because they expect a certain outcome. They expect certain treatment and customized education,” she says. “That includes technology.”