At Your Service - Tech Learning

At Your Service

Miami Dade's Debbie Karcher discusses the art of top-notch customer service.
Publish date:

As CTO of the Miami Dade County Public School District in Florida, Debbie Karcher heads up the Information Technology Services division, a centralized group that supports some 360,000 students and 50,000 full-time and part-time employees. School CIO caught up with Karcher recently and learned about her customer service best practices.

Q. “Customer Service” typically describes something that happens at a store or in a corporation. Can you describe what customer service means to you?

There are two types of support we provide. The first is the typical IT-type function: programming, reports, system-wide issues. The second is supporting users, and we’ve implemented some support models and best practices to effectively do that. Each school [in the district] has either a full-time technician or shares a technician. What used to happen is that the schools would hire these people themselves and they would report to the principal. But the principal’s core focus is on achievement, not necessarily technology. And we would often be saddled with technicians who didn’t really know how to do the job well, and we would have to support individual schools with resources from IT Services. So we came up with a shared model. These technicians still report to the principal, but now we bring them into a 90-day training program. They work with us to learn our rules, policies, and procedures, what we want the schools to do from a technology perspective, and so on. It’s been pretty effective.

We also augment individual schools with a central group of field technicians. They manage new construction projects, renovation, security, and so forth. This same group supports those schools that have big technology projects going on.

Q. What is the philosophy driving this?

We’re really focused on the school and the teacher. We wanted teachers to be able to get help when they needed it. Because if the technology isn’t working, learning is probably not taking place. The model we try to teach is that using information, and getting information, is easy. If teachers don’t think so, we haven’t done our job right.

Q. Are there specific systems in place to help you achieve this philosophy?

We recently released what we call a “portal lite.” [With the portal], teachers have access to all students by class; parents have access to student information and grades; and students have access to information that’s relevant to them. Before that, we gave teachers access to a gradebook system, to data warehouse and student performance indicator software; but they had to access this information from different places within our system. We also implemented password reset software. Resources didn’t let us increase our help desk, but when we took away [password reset requests], it allowed us to answer more pertinent calls.

Q. How do you know people are satisfied?

We do customer satisfaction surveys every six or seven [hardware /software request] tickets that we work on. Our user experience has been fairly good.

Q. How long has it taken you to get to where you are now, and how far do you have to go?

You need the infrastructure in place to be able to support this. Part of that we started building about four years ago, but most of it has taken place in the last two by implementing a data warehouse, service desk, patch management, antivirus, and password reset software. The other thing we did is run dark fiber—high volume cabling—to the schools, increasing bandwidth. We’ve also implemented caching servers so when people are accessing media-rich data they have it immediately. In the next five years, we really want to meet the anytime anywhere goal, so wherever I sit down and log on I’m seeing my desk top, my space.

Susie Meserve, former assistant editor of Technology & Learning, is a writer living in San Francisco.

Interested in learning more? E-mail Debbie Karcher at



Whiteboards at Your Service

from Technology & Learning Interactive whiteboards can assist teachers, students, trainers, and district office personnel. Whiteboard recorder software captures every step of students' work for later playback. Interactive whiteboards have made quite a splash in classrooms in recent years. When a

IT Service Management Suite, for education

SysAid Technologies Ltd., ( ), provider of IT Service Management and Customer Service Support (CSS) software, launched today a new Education Edition of its IT Service Management Suite.

Resetting At-Ease Administrator Password

Question: The previous Macintosh computer lab teacher did not document the At Ease password and we cannot get in to change settings. How can we reset the password? The IT Guy says: The answer to this question depends on what version of the Mac OS and At Ease you are running. If you have a Utilities floppy disk

At the Drop of a Hat

Tip: What do you do with all the tutorials, tips, and answers to questions that your teachers need at the drop of a hat? A website with technology tips has turned out to be a solution that many schools have adopted and even added to. On your school server or district Intranet, create a resource website that

Cloud services for education

IBM today announced  the IBM SmartCloud for Education, a set of cloud services and offerings designed to help education systems leverage predictive analytics, enhance researcher effectiveness, and alleviate constrained lab resources for learning. 

At the District: Upper Saddle River, NJ

Who We Are: The Upper Saddle River School District, located in northern New Jersey's Bergen County, is a K-8 district with an enrollment of approximately 1365. The school system consists of three facilities: Reynolds Elementary (Pre-K to 2), Bogert Elementary (3 to 5) and Cavallini Middle School (6-8). The