Systems Integrator Creates Model District

Wash'e County School District (WCSD), near Reno, is the second largest in Nevada, with 44,000 students attending 74 schools. The last time WCSD had an infusion of technology was over 10 years ago. But in 1993, voters approved a bond issue that included $13.2 million for technology, funds to totally revamp and upgrade the district's technology across the board&emdash;instructional and administrative. "Team Approach" Adopted WCSD quickly realized that a project of this magnitude exceeded its internal resources. Plus, since the areas impacted crossed organizational lines, it might well cause tension among personnel. To address these concerns of skills, time and leadership, Wash'e sought the outside aid of a systems integrator: BDM Education Technologies, McLean, Va. The total revamp included student information system (SIS), business system, a districtwide WAN, instructional labs and tools, LANs in all the secondary schools, staff training, etc. "When we started, we didn't know where to start," remembers Sheila Rojas, Transitional Technology Director for WCSD. "That's why we went with a systems integrator." Evaluation indicated the need to break the project into multiple pieces to allow for effective and concurrent management. The district and BDM created teams for each piece: instruction, student systems, technical infrastructure, business and human resources. Each team comprised staff from both organizations. From the district came direct stakeholders in the functional area; from BDM came people with specific expertise. A management team was also created, which viewed the project cross functionally. A team approach was adopted for two reasons. First, a guiding principle was that those people most knowledgeable, directly involved and directly impacted by the changes should provide leadership in selecting and implementing the technologies. Second, since BDM's role was of a limited duration, a "knowledge transfer" was vital between BDM experts and district personnel, resulting in a trained staff by the project's end. Progress Report Implementation began January of 1994. Wash'e started with an older IBM mainframe and about 300 nodes. Now they have two new mainframes and some 10,000 nodes on a districtwide ISDN-based WAN to which all schools are linked. The project is about 75% complete. "The infrastructure is in place," says Rojas, "now we're fine tuning." The SIS is done, down to the site-office level. By year's end, computer labs of at least 30 multimedia PCs will be in all but three schools. Elementary students have already participated in electronic field trips; remedial second graders use Davidson's KidPix and can log on to the network. In the high and middle schools, networks extend into classrooms. Previously, high school teachers were offering computer typing on 286s and below; now secondary schools have a minimum of 386SXs on a Novell LAN with Microsoft Office software. This fall a room-level component of the district's SIS from Macro Educational Systems, called SASI Classroom, will let teachers use the student information system right from their desks. Proudest Accomplishment "With BDM," notes Rojas, "we were able to bring in different types of technical expertise&emdash;at the times we needed them and for only as long we needed them." An automated Help Desk is perhaps the district's "proudest accomplishment," according to Rojas, and BDM's expertise was invaluable. "They knew the tools out there to help." Previously, two tech support people handled about 40 calls per week. Now they handle 200-400 calls per week, fully solving the problems of about 150 of them. No extra staff has been needed. Two software tools are the core of the automated Help Desk: OpenView from Hewlett Packard, and Top of Mind from The Molloy Group. OpenView lets one visualize the entire district WAN&emdash;routers, servers, printers, workstations, etc.&emdash;graphically onscreen and fix many problems remotely. Top of Mind help desk software both tracks and monitors user problems, allowing one to see patterns. With these and other Novell tools, one person manages the WAN and one person manages all the schools' LANs&emdash;quite a trick for a 10,000+ node network. True Partner In Wash'e's search for a systems integrator, "we found many of them didn't have a focus on schools," notes Rojas. BDM stood out in that regard. Without them, "we couldn't have done what we're doing in such a short time frame."

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.