School's out for summer!

For many of us, school is already out for the summer. So how should we be using our abundant spare time?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Summer's here! Assuming your school isn't year-around, the students have left (or will be leaving very soon), and you probably have some extra time. Some of us are lucky enough to get paid to work all year, or some finite period of time over the summer.  The rest of us may have the summer off with the kids.  Regardless, this is some time of which we need to take full advantage.

Even if you aren't paid to work over the summer, some networking with the people who are can go a long ways towards making your life much easier in the fall.  For example, building principals and district superintendents usually work year-around.  However, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get these individuals to think about IT issues during the frenzy of an average school year.  The summer provides a welcome break from constant pressure from students, administrators, parents, and teachers, during which more mundane (at least to the powers that be) issues can take center stage.

Take a week or two to decompress and think about what went right and what went wrong over the year.  Invariably, time and money will be quite limited at the K-12 level, so taking a bit of time to prioritize and document the most serious, big-ticket problems will ensure that the most critical issues are addressed.  Similarly, senior administration needs specifics: examples, metrics, dollar figures, etc.  Planning for these meetings with clear, concise documentation will help avoid an ineffective shotgun approach to the countless problems that we face on a daily basis.

For example, our district is plagued by a number of problems, most related to limited funding and/or poor planning.  However, when I took a few minutes the last week of school and spoke with my end users, three overwhelming issues became apparent:

  1. The single server running our mission-critical student management system (SMS) was woefully underpowered and slow to the point of badly limiting usability
  2. Network infrastructure issues at 4 schools were causing de facto Internet connection speeds comparable to dial-up
  3. Aging computers are failing faster than we can replace them with donations or repair them to keep student labs running.

All of this means that I need the superintendent and school committee to find me the money to scale up our SMS servers, address network bottlenecks, and begin lifecycle funding.  If you have been reading my blog, you know that the latter has never happened in my district and it happens far too infrequently at many others.  These three items are potentially huge expenses in a poor, rural district.  Yet if we are unable to use the systems on which we have already spent tens of thousands of dollars and our students don't have functional labs to type up a term paper, we are, to put it bluntly, screwed.  In fact, when districts around the country are being dinged by federal and state agencies for inadeqate technology education and integration, these expenses must be made a priority.

So I have the summer to be convincing.  I have the summer to bend anyone's ear who will listen.  I have the summer to have the superintendent over for barbecues.  I'm a vegetarian, but I'll make him thick juicy burgers till the cows come home (no pun intended) if it means I have a few extra minutes to describe what will happen if we don't get our act together on these key issues.  Unfortunately, to most administrators, IT is only a cost item.  There is very little apparent return and every three years we need more stuff.  However, it is well worth investing the time and effort to help administrators and school boards understand not only the intangible returns on IT funding, but also the crisis we stand to encounter if we don't adequately fund the technology on which we rely to run the district and teach our students.

So cook some burgers, throw some beer in the cooler, and take this summer to pitch your case to people who can make a difference next year. 

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