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Tackling the K-12 IT Staffing Challenge

The amount of technology that goes into running a modern school district is staggering. Unfortunately, the resources and talent being allocated to IT departments don’t always keep up with the demands. 

Cliff King

Chief Executive Officer

The amount of technology that goes into running a modern school district is staggering. Unfortunately, the resources and talent being allocated to IT departments don’t always keep up with the demands. 

CoSN’s 2015 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report revealed that 54% of IT leaders indicated that they lack the budget to “meet overall expectations of the school board/district leaders.”
It’s not just software and infrastructure that suffers. That same survey revealed that “private sector CTOs in the bottom 10% of the private earnings range still earn more than the average K-12 IT leader.” This gap doesn’t only exist for leaders, but for the entire IT talent pool.
In the absence of more funding, the question becomes “How do we get more out of what we have?” I’m seeing a number of successful practices from K-12 CTOs in recent years, all of which are focused on the goal of maximizing the time and energy spent on instructional needs, as opposed to maintenance and troubleshooting.


Eliminate the Least Impactful Practices 

I’ve written about accountability in the past, and it remains at the forefront of many administrators’ minds. Districts have a growing list of state and federal reporting requirements that they must meet to receive funding, and the responsibility for extracting and submitting the necessary information has traditionally fallen on the technology department.
I’m always surprised to hear how many of the non-Skyward systems out there do not come with extensive state and federal reporting features and services beyond basic data extraction. The problem with this model is that reports, which do not have a direct impact on student achievement, consume the time of IT staff and divert valuable resources from instructional objectives.
A district’s SIS and ERP solutions are where the data is collected and stored, after all, so shouldn’t much of the work be done by the provider? IT leaders can free up valuable resources by choosing a more complete solution that provides districts with all of their state and federal reporting needs and takes one more thing off their staff’s plate.


Make Sure Your Systems "Play Nice"

In many districts, interoperability is a piecemeal endeavor. Imports, exports, and interfaces are built upon request by IT staff, when the time allows for it. In extreme cases, information is still so divided that it can’t be shared between silos. This means more accounts to manage, more redundant entry, and more opportunity for error.  If this kind of hassle is the end result, then what is the point in having all that technology anyway?
It can be beneficial to assign one or more people to regularly review opportunities for integration between all of your information systems. This will require some collaboration with your entire staff, but an ongoing dialogue can open up efficiencies that your constituents might never have thought possible.


Outsource Your Maintenance 

Cloud hosting is still a frequently debated topic among K-12 IT leaders, and I can understand why. When you shoulder all of the responsibility for keeping your district’s data safe and secure, there’s something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with being able to see the physical safeguards in place instead of trusting a third party.
As cloud-computing services become more prevalent, I do expect many technology departments to shift toward a hosted model to save on ongoing maintenance, hardware refresh costs, and disaster recovery. For a relatively small annual fee, districts can offload the burden of updating their software and the servers that house their database all in one shot. This not only saves valuable hours (sometimes even days) of work, but also eliminates the need to go to the board with big-money proposals every five years or so.
Because the privacy, security, and stability of data are such important considerations, IT leaders will need to do their homework before making the move to the cloud. Look for a partner that will go the extra mile to provide your district with a secure private cloud environment with automated disaster recovery services included as a functional part of the hosting agreement.


Don't Go It Alone 

Despite the obstacles of underfunding and the temptation of the private sector, K-12 IT leaders have proven to be very loyal, signaling an altruistic motive for their career choice. The same CoSN survey I quoted above revealed that 89% of leaders “have been in ed tech for more than six years.” That’s a remarkable statistic that speaks to the grit of this underappreciated population.
With so much experience floating around out there, the power of networking in K-12 technology circles can’t be overstated. When I attend various conferences and events, I’m amazed at the communication that happens among tech leaders.
Whether it’s a major purchasing decision or something as simple as which email system you should use in your district, my recommendation would be to always turn to your peers. The odds are good that you will find someone who has already been through the same processes and would be willing to help you learn from both their mistakes and successes.
K-12 technology budgets may never reach ideal heights, but there are opportunities out there to meet more of your demands and increase the amount of time you’re spending on instructional needs. I’m sure I speak for all of us at Skyward when I say thank you for all that you do and may you continue to find new and innovative ways to improve.   

Looking for more C-suite insights? Follow Cliff on LinkedIn.


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