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FORT LUPTON — Weld Re-8 board member Kevin Schwickrath thinks the district could — technically — do better.
At the district’s regular meeting June 26 on Reynolds Avenue, the board’s default “tech expert” Schwickrath, a network engineer for data solutions provider HMO Networks of Denver, offered some IT recommendations he said could help standardize and track the district’s technical assets, streamline troubleshooting, increase security and reduce cost and staff hours.
Management was a driving theme of Schwickrath’s recommendations, and the second-year board member and dual city council panelist said the district’s administration needs to update its more than 3-year-old tech plan to reflect a new direction.
And for integration of any tech plan to succeed — and for technical assets to be optimized — Schwickrath said any and all new technology coming into the district should pass inspection by the IT Department, first.
Schwickrath said, when considering future technical investments, administrators and board members need to focus on standardizing the district’s digital assets, which Schwickrath said can improve hardware and software compatibility throughout the district.
“We need standardized PC types, types of printers, software, whenever possible,” he said. “I understand that’s not always possible … but the more we can do to standardize and keep certain kinds of PCs together, it allows them (to operate better).”
And when considering how to make technological assets more efficient, Schwickrath said teachers and administration alike should consider solutions from a technical point of view.
“From what I understand, teachers like to rearrange their classroom when they first come in,” Schwickrath said. “But that kind of causes a headache for IT.”
Schwickrath said arbitrary placement of technical assets usually fails to take into account one variable: power source.
“You can’t connect (an asset) from 50 feet away if it has a five-foot power cord,” he said.
In terms of locating technical assets, Schwickrath said equipment such as the district’s two high-end professional printers should be put in a “centralized location” that would provide optimal accessibility.
“The idea would be to encourage the use of those bigger, lower-cost printers rather than the smaller, higher-cost ones,” he said.
Another component of standardization would be security, and Schwickrath suggested the district begin distancing itself from wireless services and head back toward good old-fashioned cable, which Schwickrath said is not only more secure, but also more reliable. Consequently, wired services are also more expensive, he added.
Unified system of integration
Along with unifying the district’s technical assets, Schwickrath said teachers and admin must also follow a unified system of integration of those assets.
“One thing I kept getting a feel for was that a lot of projects and initiatives and things like that weren’t run IT,” he said. “I’m not saying they’re the stop-all to everything that comes up as far as computers go, but they weren’t included in some situations where they had to end up supporting something they had no idea the requirements for ahead of time.
“The more planning we do, the easier it is for IT to figure out what it is they need to do in order to support that initiative,” Schwickrath added. “The more IT is involved, the more they become part of the process, the smoother the rollout whatever the project may be.”
Schwickrath said the exclusion of IT, whether intentional or not, can lead to substandard support and, consequently, poorer operations.
He said a good example of not consulting with IT would be the recent set of textbooks purchased by the district, books that also have an online learning component.
“I’m pretty sure that was never run by IT,” he said. “And now there could be something in some of those websites that not all these computers support.”
Schwickrath said it’s that IT perspective, a point of view many board members wouldn’t see, that will help build a successful technical component for the district.
Schwickrath also recommended the board update the district’s more than 3-year-old tech plan, including sections addressing connectivity, so that there would continue to be a guiding document that everyone, including the public, could reference.
“The plan is still very good,” he said. “It just needs updated.”
Better communication and results
Schwickrath said part of easy integration and better cooperation with IT begins with accountability, and said the district should consider a ticketing system that would allow clients (i.e. teachers and administrators) to track the progress of their requests and provide feedback when necessary.
“The beginning of the year, just from what Gerald (Smith, the district’s director of technology services) said, it seems a little chaotic,” Schwickrath said of the early burden on IT. “Everybody’s trying to fire everything up at once, and probably a third of it is working just how they expect it to.”
Schwickrath said an efficient solution would be to have a ticketing system where teachers and admin treat IT as a “real support company.” Schwickrath said such a system could provide more efficiency while also providing “metrics and statistics” that could later be used to identify trending issues or faulty equipment.
Superintendent Mark Payler said the district currently uses Google Docs, and admitted the current system leaves a lot to be desired in terms of efficiency.