District hears tech program update, plans | News

EAST GREENWICH—The school committee received a presentation Tuesday concerning the state of the district’s technology program and its associated strengths and weaknesses, as well as what the program needs to do to remain relevant and improve to the shifting need of an ever-changing technological landscape. The district’s director of technology, Steven Arnoff, addressed some of the foundational issues that need to be addressed to ensure the district continues to provide adequate technological literacy and access to its students.

“We never really asked, what do we want our technology to do?” Arnoff said. “We know what it is doing, but what do we want it to do?”

Arnoff’s presentation to the committee regarding the district’s technology program was, perhaps tellingly, marred by a number of technological failings early on, with projectors failing to start correctly, and slides failing to load.

“We want it to be reliable,” Arnoff said to the laughter of those assembled. “We just want it to work. This is what our teachers go through.”

Aside from the simple wish for technology to actually work when powered on, however, Arnoff presented a case for the district to pursue six key goals regarding its implementation of technology and technological pedagogy: That it be reliable, fast, available, safe and secure, and be able to take the district everywhere it may decide it wants to go.

According to Arnoff, the overall state of the district’s IT is in decent working order, albeit suffering from greatly outdated infrastructure that needs to be addressed, lest it provide security weaknesses. In recent years, the program has added a full-time help desk technician and student information system support technician, bringing the total number of dedicated IT support professionals to three. Importantly, the district has approved the hiring of a full-time instructional technology specialist, thought the position has yet to be filled. Regardless, mitigating the potential for security intrusions remains paramount due to the technology currently owned and operated by the district.

“[With] our active directory, logins, security, passwords, those kinds of things, we had eight servers,” Arnoff said. “With some of them running software from 2003, 2008, and 2012. It’s now down to four servers running the new version.”

Arnoff also highlighted the fact that much of the equipment available to students, as well as the infrastructure needed to maintain its use, is at the end-of-life stage of its use.

“I don’t want to see schools with seven, eight, nine-year old Chromebooks. And I’ve seen lots of schools with 7, 8, 9, and older equipment,” Arnoff said. “We have three people. We have over 2800 Chromebooks, and probably another 200-300 desktops, and we have one repair person. 70-to-1 is the accepted number. Multiply that by ten and we are still short.”

Compounding the issue of aging equipment and limited staff, are the ever-changing local and state rules regarding standards and reporting requirements. Until the implementation of the latest technology plan, the district maintained no documentation regarding its licensing of products or the correct use and maintenance of its systems. That is changing, and the district is now creating documentation for all of its systems with the hope of both increasing operational capacity as well as cohesion with state rules regarding school IT infrastructure.

At the crux of all of these issues is a tech literacy plan, which aims to integrate the district’s use of technology and the state of its systems with industry best-practices.

“The objective of the technology program is to bring all technology systems and services, including curriculum integration, current, aligned with industry-standards and using best practices,” Arnoff said. “This may sound simple and straightforward. However, to accomplish this objective there are many changes and improvements to be completed as we move to improve our system from backbone to end-user deployment and support.”

“It’s especially an issue with a high-performance district like East Greenwich,” Arnoff added.

Indeed, the need for robust learning opportunities and up-to-date systems infrastructure has become a critical component of the educational landscape in recent years, with numerous schools in Rhode Island being hit with Ransomware attacks which exploited outdated systems.

“Network, and especially data security, is our biggest issue at the moment,” Arnoff confirmed.

There is much hope for the future of the district’s technological offerings, however, as funding is largely already in place to make the required adjustments and put the district back on track to providing up-to-date, secure, and accessible technology.

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