DAILY INSIGHT: The vital role technology plays in a school merger

In August 2013, the Memphis City and Shelby County School districts will merge, creating one of the 20 largest school systems in the country.

The new district could serve as many as 150,000 students and is less than two years from becoming a reality. A new, 23-member Shelby County Board of Education is working to help guide this process, establish practices for the new district and ensure a smooth transition for the students, parents and community.

Technology is playing an integral role in the school merger in a number of ways.

The Shelby County and Memphis City School Information Technology departments have already begun meeting to compare best practices. Two months ago, our districts combined purchasing power to unify the antivirus products that protect our massive infrastructures. By pooling our intelligence and purchasing resources, we will be able to save both districts a significant amount of money.

We are now forming a combined IT governance counsel. This partnership will position both districts to make strategic decisions related to IT investments, streamline decision making and create greater accountability around IT.

“I think the information technology department of both systems can lead the way and blaze the trail for the rest of the employees as we merge operations in advance of 2013,” said Billy Orgel, Shelby County Board of Education Chairman.

The IT department also developed a website for the new Shelby County Board of Education in just five days so the first Board work session would be available to the public via live webcast. This was the first time any Board meeting had ever been broadcast live in the history of either Board. The meetings are stored in a library by either video or podcast, so they are accessible in case members of the public would like to see them after the meeting airs.

According to Shelby County Board of Education Vice-Chairman Dr. Jeffrey Warren, the website is the single-most important technological advance he has seen for the Board from the IT department. “The website is a huge advantage in terms of transparency,” said Dr. Warren. “It has increased viewership of our meetings by at least 60% because our meetings were previously only available to Comcast viewers. This speaks to the need for the Board to be truly transparent as we go through this merger process and the big part technology will play in that process.”

The website also simplifies public access to merger information and Board members by streamlining all of the merger information into one official site. This invites community participation in the merger process.

“The biggest opportunity for us in the merger is to be a lightning rod to bring the community together and to encourage employers to love Memphis,” Orgel adds. “We have to create a well-educated workforce by giving our students the tools necessary to succeed in the future. I would hope when the school doors open in 2013, it is a watershed moment. I want us to be looking forward and not in the rear-view mirror.”

Rich Valerga is CIO for Memphis City Schools.

Next month, Valerga will blog about IT governance.