DAILY INSIGHT: Moving away from an IT Department

Are school IT departments necessary? Of course!  
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Are school IT departments necessary? Of course!  

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

About a month ago, I saw some blog posts and tweets articulating that since schools have more tech-savvy teachers and have moved a great deal of our services to the cloud, why do we need an IT department anymore? Let’s just get rid of them and save some money. Good idea, right?

I understand the concerns employees often have when “stereotypical” IT employees tell them how to do their jobs or what they can and cannot do. One district I am aware of hated the IT staff so much that the teachers rose up against them and the IT staff and the superintendent ended up leaving the district. So besides offending the staff with geek-speak and setting strict web-filtering limits to block Facebook and Pinterest, what are the core functions an IT department should be providing?

  1. Provide, support and maintain a stable and reliable WAN with connections to the Internet and the wider world.
  2. Ensure adequate backups for archival need and disaster recovery.
  3. Repair, update, rotate and service hardware and software throughout the district.
  4. Meet the filtering and monitoring requirements of the district (not create them), working with the instructional staff to determine what should or shouldn’t be filtered.
  5. Make recommendations regarding technology purchases from a technology standpoint.
  6. Make recommendations regarding policy issues related to technology. 
  7. Make recommendations related to software purchases as to how it relates to the existing installed base. 
  8. Assist the instructional staff with vetting new proposals and emerging technologies as to how to best integrate them into the existing infrastructure and installed base.

The IT department in most districts also manages the phone system, copiers, bus radios and cameras, and a milieu of other items. School CIOs need to ensure that their IT staff remembers they are there to support students and not simply to torment the end users. (Some help desk staffers I have worked with will swear that the end users are occasionally hired to torment the IT folk.) These are tasks that cannot easily be outsourced except in the smallest districts, and troubleshooting a networking problem or replacing a failed hard drive are difficult to do from a Pan-Asian call center.

Remember to focus on customer service and support the school or district’s overall desire to raise student achievement.

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning. Follow North Boone on Twitter @NBCUSD200.