Q: What have been your greatest accomplishments at CCPS so far?
A: From an infrastructure perspective, we have looked very intently at where we want to be as a school system five and ten years out, and we have been systematically putting the infrastructure in place to reach our goals. For instance, we made the decision to run fiber to every school, changing from T-1 service. Fiber isn’t a luxury. In order to meet instructional requirements, implement and maintain effective data warehousing and distance learning, and plan for future bandwidth needs, we found we need a 2 GB connection between each school and the central office. We’ve upgraded all of our WAN equipment. On the LAN side, we’re using blade servers and have deployed a flexible storage area network for terabytes of voice, data, video, and other media. We also have new backup and disaster recovery infrastructure in place. Beyond infrastructure improvements, our biggest success story has been the building of our data warehouse, which went live in February 2004. This was one of those dream projects that we projected to implement in six months but actually completed in four. The new warehouse handles all of the No Child Left Behind reporting in addition to county and state assessments and Advanced Placement and SAT data. The application is available to our principals and their administrators and teachers, as well as central office staff, via desktops, laptops, and tablet computers.
Q: What have your infrastructure upgrades made possible, curriculum-wise?
A: We started an interesting project last summer in which we digitized our ninth-grade government textbook. We trained our teachers to map our curriculum to the textbook and then gave them access to the textbook in digitized form via a school-provided laptop. Streaming technology provides video from the textbook to each classroom, and LCD projectors make the technology easily accessible to all the students. In some cases, the time it takes to develop classroom material around the textbook went from days to hours. Next, we’ll be digitizing our algebra and biology texts. In rolling out these kinds of projects, we try to use the technology and tools to initiate enthusiasm from teachers and students.
Q:What’s currently hot on your plate?
A:We have a number of projects in the works. One of the goals of our new network infrastructure is to increase network security—deploy effective firewalls and content and spam filtering and make sure the internal infrastructure is standardized and rock-solid. Another big project is the deployment of IP telephones. We either have or soon will have 911 emergency capabilities in each classroom in the district. Our student information system feeds the IP telephony system with information—teachers have access to student demographics and parent contact information, and we can easily and simply activate broadcast messages in case of an emergency or disaster. The possibilities are vast.
Q: Any final words of wisdom?
A: The bottom line for all of these technologies is that if they’re not used for the purpose of instruction, it’s all a waste of money. Most small school systems do not take good care of IT needs and decisions, and often IT is not well liked or well respected. We’re focused on IT here because it is critical to everything we are doing, and we can bring up any issues we have for very quick resolution. IT cannot be pushed aside, not if you want to make good use of your technology budget and improve the ability of your district to provide effective curriculum delivery now and in the future.
Richard Hoffman, former Web technologies coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, is a technical architect based in New Hampshire and site editor of CMP Media’s Systems Integration Pipeline.