George J. Weeks - Tech Learning

George J. Weeks

Meet a tech director from NJ with a lot of insight to share.
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Name: George J. Weeks

Age: 51

Title: Director of Technology

District: Glassboro Public Schools, NJ

What are your big-picture tech goals?

In 1994-1995 we did our last total infrastructure upgrade. We installed a private fiber ring around our community in partnership with our local municipality and the local college. As the WAN was installed we replaced all the existing 3Com networking infrastructure and replaced it with Cisco equipment—a core content switches in every building, new POE switches on the edge for future growth.

Once the network was in place we began the process of replacing all our computers. We began by leasing all our computers, then a series of replacement servers. These leases allowed us standardize equipment, operating systems and purchase all the devices at once while creating a flat budget for 4 to 5 years at a time, with minimal increases when the leases expire and we refresh the equipment.

The lease for our servers is expiring in June 2012 and we have already planned for replacements and virtualization of our entire server farm of 30 servers. The lease for our end-user devices, computers and laptops, expires in June 2013 and we are already planning and reviewing requirements for that refresh. We know it will be very different from the last lease of almost three years ago. We expect to see a lot less desktop computers and many more laptops, as well as the introduction of tablet devices to either replace or extend functionality of the laptops for students.

We just recently performed some network infrastructure upgrade on equipment that was end-of-life, such as our PIX firewall and some Cisco 3500XL switches, as well as increasing capacity on a couple of Cisco 4507 switches.

In January 2011 we introduced managed and secured print services. This four-year lease provides all copiers, multifunction printers and desktop printers, maintenance and toner for all 62 devices. These devices replaced 16 copiers, 52 network printers and over 125 personal desktop printers and provided the district with an immediate $12,000 savings over the old copier lease.

As we begin the next refresh cycles over the next 2 to 5 years, I see a need for a complete overhaul of our infrastructure and delivery mechanisms in order to increase capacity and throughput, increase security and reliability in order to handle the demands for more wireless devices, BYOD programs and access to cloud-based applications.

What changes are you taking to achieve these goals?

We are planning network upgrades that will allow us to provide extra capacity, increase bandwidth and increase throughput on the backbone. These are required to accommodate the anticipated increased number of devices that we will purchase as well as any BYOD program we begin.

The plan is to upgrade the backbone to 10GB, and port speeds to GB on the edge. This will allow us to upgrade the existing 54MB A/G wireless with 108MB N wireless.

We will be putting in Network Access Control and Identity Services, which will allow us to segregate personal devices on our network from district-owned and -controlled devices, thus ensuring network integrity.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?

Making sure that the network is stable and that users can access resources in a timely fashion with limited budgets and fewer human resources than my corporate brethren. In my experience most people in the educational world don’t seem realize that the technology infrastructure that runs our schools is the same or very similar to ones that run in a hospital or pharmaceutical company.

In other words, if my school closed on Friday and re-opened Monday as a hospital, my staff and I would be doing the exact same things on Monday that we did on Friday. The only noticeable difference would be some of the software systems installed on the computers would have changed.

Managing technology in this environment is a balancing act. You have to prioritize and evaluate the pain levels that users can tolerate if they don’t have access to resources, like email, Internet or printers.

You also have to establish good lines of communication with your end users (teachers AND students), fellow administrators and your school board members. Keep people informed of what you are thinking and planning. Make adjustments based on input from these three levels of stake holders.

How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?

BE VISIBLE AND ACCESSIBLE. As my grandma used to say, “Be nice to everyone you meet.” Be the solutions person not the problem person. Identify problems and tell people how to fix them. Make yourself the go-to person, even if it isn’t in your domain.

Communication with staff, administrators and board members is important, but so is communication with students and parents. Making them feel included goes a long, long way in getting people to feel like they are involved in what you are doing.

Attend staff meetings, board meetings, any meeting they’ll let you attend. Talk to people—talk to everyone—about what you are doing, why you are doing it, about how you will make things easier and how they can help you do that.

Ask those same people questions about what they need, what they want, what they’d like to be able to do, about how they want you to help them.

Share your expertise with them. Don’t make them feel stupid—instead, make them feel included. Including them in your plans gets them to want to help and gives you the buy in you need to reach your tipping points for change, for money, for whatever is needed to make technology successful in your district.

Send emails with periodic updates or just a funny anecdote about what happened when you received your first shipment of 500 computers and they came in 1,500 boxes.

It isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work, and your mouth will hurt from smiling and being nice. But in the end, it’s worth every ounce of effort.

What currently has you really excited?

Our summer virtualization project. I can’t wait to get my new server boxes installed and reduce my server room to 5 devices from 30 and still have room to add additional servers if we need them.

But in general I am really excited by technology of the 21st century—the fact that in my lifetime computers went from being the size of a living room to the size of the palm of your hand and smaller. New technologies that will allow me to unroll a flexible glass and turn a table, a desk or a spiral-bound notebook into a connected, interactive device that has the entire knowledge of humankind at the fingertips of the person holding it.

How cool is that?

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