District: Judson Independent School District, TX
SchoolCIO: Tell us a little about your district.
Young: It’s the fourth largest district in San Antonio. We have 28 schools, approximately 22,500 students, several thousand employees, and thousands of devices.
SchoolCIO: As CTO, what are you responsible for?
Young: My staff does everything from supporting devices to running multiple data centers. We have a massive network of 30+ sites; we’re virtualizing servers and several thousand desktops. A small application-development group reports to me. We also handle all of the phones, radios, cell phones, mobile device management, web servers, and more. It’s a lot!
SchoolCIO: Anything you don’t do that you wish you could?
Young: I’d love to have a group of people working with teachers on innovation, but that’s not my role.
SchoolCIO: What are some of your biggest challenges?
Young: I struggle with providing technology access for students, especially in our crowded secondary schools. We let students BYOD but it is not integrated into our curriculum and is a new, difficult concept for many teachers. Unfortunately, I don’t have a staff member that can go out and work with teachers to help them. When Texas cut its technology allotment funding, we—like a lot of districts—had to drastically slash our instructional technology department.
In 2006, we got $8 million in bonds that allowed us to modernize technology across the district, taking us out of the dark ages. We have a strong network and are doing additional upgrades with e-Rate funding. Over the last two years, we’ve installed wireless and now it’s pervasive. We have policies and support in place for BYOD and guest networks and a really good portal for staff and students to access a variety of resources with one login. I’m putting the pieces together so that if a teacher or campus wants to try BYOD or some other tech initiative they can, but it’s not ideal. Ideally I’d have a dedicated tech coach at each school.
Our high schools are overcrowded and there aren’t enough desktops and laptops to go around. We have another bond issue coming in May and the plan is to build another high school but that’s several years out.
SchoolCIO: What tech projects are you currently working on?
Young: Our elementary classes have four or five computers in every class. We’re using local funding to upgrade the elementary schools to newer technology that supports Windows 7 and it’s looking good. We’ve also used local funds to standardize projectors and document cameras across the district, so every teacher has that equipment.
Again, the big challenge is the high school. We’re trying to figure out a game plan for next year and beyond. I’m not a huge fan of laptop carts; they often were too heavy for teachers, had long login times and had challenges with charging and that sort of thing.
We have a new Samsung Chromebook in my office. It boots up in seven seconds, it’s light, and it holds a good charge. If I can’t do 1:1 in our secondary schools, it might make sense to get Chromebook carts so the kids can collaborate, write, and do research. We’re planning a Chromebook pilot with the high school International Baccalaureate program right now and it might address our financial and access challenges. We have one technician serving 1,300 devices. Although lots of schools are in the same or similar situations, it’s a huge challenge. That’s why Chromebooks might be the answer. They should require very little of our technician’s time to support.
We were an early Texas adopter of Schoology. I get intrigued by the smaller startups, and Schoology had a tiny booth a few years ago at TCEA. Schoology has Google Docs integration and we worked closely with them to automate account management for all staff and secondary students. I put this out there, and if a teacher wants to use it for collaboration, that’s great. The company has some webinars but I’m not able to do much PD around it. But we like the promise of students using Google Docs on a Chromebook and dropping it into Schoology for their teacher.
SchoolCIO: I hear you won an award for an app you developed. Spill!
Young: We used Conduit Mobile, a mobile development platform out of Israel, to develop the Judson ISD Connect! app for our district. They submitted our app and we won a Bronze Lovie Award in the education category. I think school mobile app development is an area about to take off. I spent less than $1,000, plus a minor amount of staff time, to get it developed, and now we have a cool app. We presented at TCEA to a standing-room-only crowd of 150 people. Our app has news, events, sports scores, board meetings, athletic schedules, Facebook, Twitter, photos, videos, district links, Report It, and our ParentCenter, which includes grades, discipline information, bus routes, lunch balances. Since all of us are tethered to our devices 24/7, we really wanted to include as much as we could in the app. We focused on repurposing existing web content into the app so we did not have to duplicate data entry. We are always exploring other features to add.
You can check out Judson ISD Connect! in the App store. We tell people to steal from it and if you come up with better ideas, tell us.
We’re proud of it and we didn’t have to spend a lot of time or money. I say “Go for it” to other districts. We get a lot of inquiries about it.
SchoolCIO: Last question. What right now gets you excited?
Young: I’m thrilled to see all the support for products that offer device-agnostic collaboration, such as Google Apps. Ultimately, that’s where it’s it at—at the end of the day. The ability of all these interconnected, low-cost devices to be used by students and teachers to improve learning—not just instruction—excites me. We’re on the cusp. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen lower-cost devices and free, collaborative technology. It gives us so much potential to do great things.