April 2020 Administrative Update
by: Richard Clements
Director of Information Technology
The genesis "moment" was a simple question; when can we buy a portable computer, suitable for students to bring to and from school each day, that would cost less than $300? That question was asked in 2008.
The answer to the question, as it turned out, was far less important than the implications it carried. Clearly, a one-to-one deployment of low-cost computers to roughly 1,800 students was the goal. But, how would that add value? How would they communicate? How would information be shared? How would we administer 1,800 new "users" and computers? How to make this safe, secure, fast, flexible and durable? We needed a “plan”.
The mission statement became "instruction that transcends the time of day and location of the student". The guiding principle became "no gaps". Every student, regardless of grade level, must have access to appropriately sophisticated technology. That technology should allow students to collaborate with one another and with their teachers. It should provide access to vast swaths of information to supplement learning. It should be safe and simple. Most importantly, it should be usable both in school and at home.
To make this idea work, we’d needed a few things before we started buying computers. First, we planned our infrastructure; a wireless network on campus and a central repository to register and manage our users and provide locations for them to securely store and safely share their work.
In the summer of 2009, we rebuilt the network at all three buildings. Then, we added wireless networking to the high school. By late 2009, we'd become one of the first school districts in the region to set up Google Apps for Education domain for all of our students and teachers. As we entered the 2010 fiscal year, we felt like we'd created the perfect “plan” for one-to-one student computers…
And then came the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
And then, the Property Tax Cap.
And then, the Combined Wealth Ratio.
All of which conspired to make us the most fiscally-stressed district in the state. While laying-off significant percentages of staff and faculty simply to survive, one-to-one computing was out of the question. So much for our “plan” ....
Courageous decision-making and invaluable support from the community brightened our prospects. By 2017, when we dared to again consider the idea of one-to-one, we realized that two important things had occurred during the years in which we'd been "sidelined" by our finances; the quality of the technology had improved dramatically while the price of that technology had fallen significantly. We were indeed well within the era of the sub-$300 portable computer. Our “plan” was BACK!!
By the summer of 2019, we finally realized the vision that had been put forth so many years ago - education that can transcend the time of day and the students' location. Beginning last September, all students had a Chromebook computer assigned directly to them. The “plan” had finally been accomplished.
And, just in the nick of time.
Today, the vision that began with a simple question nearly 12 years ago, is playing a pivotal role as the world grapples with the challenge of COVID-19. The transcendence that we’d planned has now become a keystone of our instruction as we’ve been forced, due to our circumstances, to move away from the physical confines of our campus. Nowhere along this winding road did we “plan” for a total remote learning scenario.
An old saying states that “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans”. In recounting this tale, I’m even more humbled by the simple, elegant truth of that saying.