Wade Barnes, a U.S. Army veteran, now serves as the Executive Director of Infrastructure and Support for DeKalb County (Ga.) School District.

Sep 25 2020

Q&A: Wade Barnes on How to Create a Seamless Transition to Learning

Wade Barnes explains why IT leaders should work with other K–12 administrators to create seamless transitions between in-person and online learning.

Wade Barnes keeps answering the call to serve. He spent five years in the U.S. Army, then moved to the private sector. He has worked around the world as a U.S. government contractor and in various enterprise IT roles such as senior network engineer and IT director.

After 17 years away, Barnes has returned home to Georgia as executive director of ­infrastructure and support for the DeKalb County School District. Service is central to Barnes’s view of IT administration and security.

An IT administrator should be the ultimate partner, he says, a “quiet warrior” who supports education. He talked with EdTech: Focus on K–12 about IT leaders’ roles in maintaining human and digital connections inside and outside the classroom.

EDTECH: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the role of a K–12 IT leader?

BARNES: It forces us as leaders to come up with flexible, innovative ideas on how to teach our students. IT leaders must break down interdepartmental silos to have that flexible environment and to provide the platform for our students to learn as effectively in virtual classrooms as they do in the schoolhouse. This is shifting the way the organization thinks about student learning mediums and security now that they’re not in a building.

EDTECH: What infrastructure needs should school districts address before successfully deploying full-scale remote learning?

BARNES: It comes down to the basics. The basic needs right now in this flexible environment — whether in the schoolhouse or in the living room — are to have a device in students’ hands, provide an internet connection and identify key drivers of disparity in the community. Districts also need a robust and secure student information system. Now that you’re expanding your footprint outside of classrooms, consider how students are going to authenticate seamlessly to their student information system and other necessary digital resources.

READ MORE: What are the building blocks of remote learning?

EDTECH: What other needs should IT leaders and K–12 administrators keep in mind for successful hybrid instruction, and why?

BARNES: Building an infrastructure that is resolute, solid, reliable and secure —whether in or out of the schoolhouse — is key. There also are a few main areas that, from a leadership perspective, you should keep in mind with regard to protecting personally identifiable information. Awareness is key when it comes to information security. For example, what does a phishing email look like? How do you combat it? How do you report it? It comes down to governance as a whole.

There is a need to identify key risks at an organizational level and be able to describe them intelligibly to the board, CEO or superintendent so they’ll be able to make informed decisions. Dig into information security and cybersecurity frameworks such as NIST, ISO or COBIT — whatever fits your organizational objectives — to assist overall governance.

Wade Barnes
You can’t act if you don’t have any intelligible data on where you are.”

Wade Barnes Executive Director of Infrastructure and Support, DeKalb County (Ga.) School District

EDTECH: How would you gauge whether your wireless infrastructure is robust enough to support the networking needs of expanded remote learning?

BARNES: It’s all about assessments. You can’t act if you don’t have any intelligible data on where you are. What’s the current state, and what does the future state look like? Once you have that information, you can build upon those data points and provide infrastructure to meet that demand — a scalable, sustainable solution based on the future growth for that environment.

EDTECH: What should be done to eliminate disparities in access to educational technology and ensure reliable internet access to students and educators?

BARNES: You have to identify the economic disparities that students and even teachers face. But disparities are not limited to economics. For DeKalb, hotspots help economically disadvantaged students, parents and teachers who may not have the means to pay for internet access. However, rural areas that don’t have economic disparities may still lack internet access. Leaders must find ways to bridge that gap with innovative and emerging technology that mitigates disruption in teaching and learning.

In K–12, our business driver is effective teaching and learning. IT teams partner with colleagues in curriculum and instruction and follow their lead. We can also lead in innovative ways once we understand their goals and objectives. IT should be a supreme partner, providing a resilient and secure infrastructure, putting a device in students’ hands, providing them a method to connect that device, implementing governance structures and establishing a solid disaster recovery platform to minimize downtime. One minute of student downtime is a problem for our core organizational objectives. It’s important that we provide that background and be a quiet warrior behind the scenes to make sure it’s a seamless transition.

MORE ON EDTECH: How are school districts continuing remote learning for students without internet?

EDTECH: What are some key infrastructure needs for safely reopening physical school buildings, and how should those be addressed?

BARNES: Again, this is about having a flexible environment no matter where you are. That also involves ensuring that you have the necessary infrastructure in place to support safely reopening buildings. Things to consider include a robust wireless infrastructure, air conditioning and power needs, air filtering and charging stations for students.

Photography by Ben Rollins