Joshua Shearer, Technology Director for Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, Mass., says students on the large campus need reliable connectivity.

Oct 03 2022

How Improving IT Efficiency Can Better Support Education

Districts are taking advantage of remote management and automation tools to simplify and streamline IT operations.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School is not a typical K–12 campus. When SVAHS Technology Director Joshua Shearer recently upgraded the school’s wireless network, he provided faster, stronger Wi-Fi connectivity, both in traditional classrooms and in unique learning environments, including barns full of goats, pigs and other animals.

The public school in Northampton, Mass., educates 550 students across 15 vocational programs. These include culinary arts, which features a fully equipped kitchen and restaurant, and automotive technology, where students get hands-on training in an auto service and repair facility.

Remote management tools enable the two-person IT staff to remotely manage and troubleshoot the Wi-Fi network as well as students’ and teachers’ mobile devices. That’s important on a large campus with 12 buildings and a farm, Shearer says.

“We’re spread out like a college campus,” he says. “When you have a small IT department like we do, being able to remotely access and manage anything on my infrastructure is so convenient and critical. It’s a huge timesaver.”

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Today’s K–12 IT departments are busier than ever. IT responsibilities often include administrative technology and, for some, network-connected alarms, door access control systems and even HVAC systems. That load can impact an IT department’s ability to focus on student-facing technology, according to the 2022 EdTech Leadership Survey Report, produced by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Experts say IT teams can ease some of the stress by deploying technology tools to run IT operations more efficiently and productively. By using remote management solutions, automation tools and digital signatures, which eliminate paper processes, time- and budget-constrained IT staff can do more with less.

“The more we can use smart tools to improve efficiency and lighten the burden on the technology staff, the better it is, the smarter it is,” says CoSN CEO Keith Krueger. “The primary purpose of education is learning. By focusing on efficiency, schools can capture back time and save money that can be redirected into instruction.”

RELATED: Learn how to easily deploy new devices for K–12 students.

Managing Wi-Fi in the Cloud Saves IT Teams Time

At SVAHS, Shearer has standardized on Extreme Networks switches and about 75 cloud-managed Wi-Fi access points (APs).

Shearer checks the health of the network several times a day because wireless connectivity is essential to learning. Interactive whiteboards in classrooms are connected via Wi-Fi. Students with Chromebooks and teachers with laptops rely on Google Classroom for assignments and Google Workspace for Education for its productivity and collaboration tools.

Animal science students also need flawless Wi-Fi at the campus farm. “Students are in and out of the barns all the time, and they have small classrooms throughout, so they must have wireless coverage,” he says.

Using Extreme Networks’ ExtremeCloud IQ cloud-based software, Shearer can manage and monitor the network from any location. The dashboard gives him real-time network visibility, allowing him to quickly troubleshoot problems and ensure good connectivity.

“If a teacher says, ‘I’m not getting a good signal in a room,’ I can jump right in and see if an AP is down or if I need to power up one of the APs to give it more range,” he says.

With the software, Shearer can easily and automatically push new configurations or firmware updates to each AP and switch.

Keith Krueger
The primary purpose of education is learning. By focusing on efficiency, schools can capture back time and save money that can be put back into instruction.”

Keith Krueger CEO, Consortium for School Networking

Automation Tools Can Help Schools Speed Onboarding

The School District of Indian River County, which has 27 schools in Vero Beach, Fla., uses automation tools that integrate data from different applications to speed employee onboarding and manage student access to digital learning resources.

The IT department uses software to automate identity and access management, including the creation, deletion and updating of user accounts when employees are hired, leave or change jobs, says Tony Robinson, SDIRC’s director of technology services.

RELATED: Legacy technology and systems open the door for cybercriminals.

When new employees are added to SDIRC’s enterprise resource planning system, the district’s Identity Automation RapidIdentity software automatically pulls the new employee information to create their Azure Active Directory accounts, provision their Microsoft 365 licenses and assign them to security groups based on their jobs.

“We seldom have to touch it,” Robinson says. “When we can automate processes and take tasks off people’s plates, it frees up time for more critical and more complex projects.”

Robinson and his IT team even automate the class rostering process for ClassLink LaunchPad, which provides students a single sign-on portal to access educational applications and digital textbooks. To set it up, the IT staff uses ClassLink’s OneRoster, which automatically imports class rosters from the student information system and enables students to gain access to the digital learning resources they need based on their grade levels or class schedules.

82%

The percentage of school IT leaders who say a lack of data interoperability affects operational efficiency

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

Digital Signatures Makes for Easier, More Secure Data Collection

In the Pacific Northwest, Riverdale School District Technology Director Shanna Schlitz strives to streamline operations with technology every chance she gets.

Last year, the two-school district in Portland, Ore., implemented a COVID-19 screening program, in which students receive free at-home test kits weekly.

To make the enrollment process more efficient, Schlitz deployed Adobe Sign, a cloud-based digital signature application that allows parents to sign up for the program electronically.

It was such a huge success that the district’s administrative offices began using digital signatures to approve invoices and payments, Schlitz says.

“We still send a lot of paper home with students, but I’m trying hard to get our staff to use Adobe Sign as a platform for parent communications,” she says. “It’s more secure, easier to manage and easier to collect data.”

Three years ago, Riverdale’s two-person IT staff also implemented a cloud-based help desk ticketing system to manage requests more efficiently. The software enables the staff to prioritize the most urgent requests and track progress and response times.

“It allows us to triage and keep track of things and see how responsive and efficient we are,” Schlitz says. “Our main goal is to serve students and teachers and make sure we are as responsive as we can be.”

DIG DEEPER: Learn how these schools scale their small K–12 IT teams.

IT Teams Save Time by Remotely Managing Student Devices

IT leaders from Riverdale School District, SDIRC and SVAHS all use remote management tools to manage computing devices.

All three districts use the Google Admin console to remotely manage Chromebooks. At SDIRC, Robinson and his team have deployed Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager to automatically push software updates and patches to nearly 4,000 staff desktop and laptop computers.

At Riverdale, Schlitz uses Jamf software, while Shearer at SVAHS uses TeamViewer to remotely troubleshoot staff laptops. If a teacher is having difficulty showing a video in class, Shearer can quickly resolve the issue and not spend 10 minutes walking to the classroom.

“I can remotely fix a problem before a class gets off task,” Shearer says. “It makes our team and school so much more efficient.” 

Photography by Shawn Henry

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