New York school district uses technology to coordinate instructional resources and data across institutions
- By Bridget McCrea
When Greg Partch came on board with the Hudson Falls Central School District in 1995, his first charge was to come up with a technology plan for the district. His second charge was to find a way to put the plan in action for the district's high school, middle school, intermediate school, primary school, and kindergarten center.
"When I got here, the district had about 15 computers and no technology plan," recalled Partch, director of education technology for the Hudson Falls, NY-based school district, which also runs a GED program for incarcerated youth. The district, with an annual budget is about $33 million, employs 200 teachers and serves 2,400 children in grades K through 12.
After the public passed a $4.5 million capital bond for the district, Partch said, the first step was to build out the schools' fiber-backed network and enable all classrooms with network connectivity. It didn't take long for him to realize that his two-person IT team wasn't going to be able to support the proposed 1,500 to 2,000 desktop computers originally planned for the schools.
"There was no way my small staff was going to be able to handle that setup in six different facilities," said Partch, "so we started to look at solutions other than traditional desktop computing."
At a trade show in Chicago, Partch learned that National Semiconductor was making chips designed for thin client (computers that rely on servers to do most of their processing) devices. The idea piqued his interest. "In 2000, we invited National Semiconductor here to New York to check out what they were offering," said Partch. "We ... soon realized that it was more of a business solution, as opposed to a classroom option."
Not willing to give up his quest for a viable technology option, Partch next looked at ClassLink, a maker of application server solutions for K-12 schools. ClassLink LaunchPad delivers access to a school's full array of instructional software resources from any computer in the school or home. ClassLink CLiC is a server management tool designed expressly for K-12 system administrators. The software automates complicated technology tasks, reduces time spent troubleshooting, and generates software usage and server diagnostic reports.
After testing out the company's product, Hudson Falls Central School District installed a 50-workstation lab where it could run two-day workshops for its teachers. "It fit the bill perfectly," recalled Partch, who referred to the ClassLink operating system as an "application portal delivery system," which allows educators and administrators to deliver customized desktops to its students.
Partch said the system was fairly easy to install and implement. The biggest challenge, according to Partch, was getting the students' profiles and information organized in a way that would allow for seamless automation and placement in the correct categories.
"Knowing that there was going to be a lot of information delivered to the students through the system, we put a lot of time into making sure the data was clean and easy to deliver," said Partch, who added that the extra work paid off. "Now, new users of the system can create accounts quickly on the template-driven setup."
In 2008, Hudson Falls Central School District added ClassLink Inquiry to its technology lineup. A Software & Information Industry Association 2009 Ed Tech Industry Summit Innovation Incubator participant, Inquiry provides administrators with customizable, real-time software and hardware utilization reports and accumulates, organizes, and analyzes data in an instructional context.
The district played a role in developing the new software program. "We were fortunate to have our hands in the development of Inquiry," said Partch. "ClassLink would create a module and send it to us, and we'd look at it and say, 'This is good,' or, 'We need a hand here.'"
Partch said the customizable aspect of the software is particularly useful for the district's K-12 instructors. "We can deliver a desktop to the kindergartener that's much different than the one we send to the high school, or to the incarcerated youths," he explained. The students themselves can access the information from anywhere--even from home--with a username and password.
Inquiry also gives Partch and his team an inside view of what's going on in the district's technology infrastructure. He can look at specific buildings, rooms, and desktop computers (of which the district currently has about 1,500) to see which have been turned on and logged onto, how long they were used, and what the students did with the computers while they were logged on.
"This helps manage our IT resources," said Partch. "When a teacher comes to me and tells me that she needs new computers, I can run reports on the usage and point out areas where the machines are underutilized ... before purchasing any new ones. If the machines aren't being used effectively, then we don't have to buy more."
Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].