Henrico County Public Schools tech specialists share successes, challenges

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Brian Maddox and Kourtney Bostain each have different backgrounds and specialties, but they have the same vision for their Virginia school district.

At Henrico County Public Schools, the director of technology and the assistant director of instructional technology, respectively, are working on transforming teaching and learning for the digital age.

They shared with EdScoop that they are working on implementing Schoology, the popular learning management system for K-12 and higher education. Both have children enrolled in the district, so they have a lot invested to make sure all students are on pace to be comfortable with using technology.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for clarity and length.

EdScoop: What are your district’s top technology priorities this year?

Brian Maddox: This year, the technology department is focusing on aligning with instruction through active engagement with school leadership to fully understand and optimize the use of technology in the classroom. We are also focusing on improving operations to ensure technology services meet the needs of schools and students, refresh our technology infrastructure to support instruction need and demand (for example, the increasing use of cloud and digital resources). We also want to continue to assess our security posture to ensure our students, staff and information are secure.

Kourtney Bostain: We are focused on implementing a new learning platform, Schoology, across all of our secondary schools and piloting it in our elementary schools. We piloted in our secondary schools during the 2015-16 school year in one high school and one middle school. We will add 20 more schools. Our efforts will focus on the integration of our digital assets into Schoology supporting the design, delivery and assessment of student learning across the district.

ES: How did you come into your role?

BM: My career, until about a year ago, was in the private industry with a focus on infrastructure, IT operations and IT services. I discovered the opening at Henrico County Public Schools and saw an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself where I could positively impact students learning. I have two children in Henrico County Public Schools.

KB: I have been in Henrico for 15 years, starting as a middle school social studies teacher during the second year of our one-to-one laptop initiative. From day one, I believed in the power of technology in the classroom and was an early adopter of technology in the classroom. This passion led to my becoming an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher and then a specialist in our Instructional Technology department. I just recently moved into a new role as the Assistant Director of Instructional Technology. Twelve of my 15 years have been with the office of Instructional Technology. My son just finished his first year in the county, and his brother will not be far behind him.

ES: What is the most exciting or interesting project your school or district is currently working on? When is it scheduled to roll out?

BM: The technology team is currently working on refreshing our network infrastructure in all our elementary schools and some administrative sites. The total number of sites is about 45 and the effort is scheduled over the summer for the next 2.5 months until completion in August 2016. The project cost is about $5.5 million. This refresh of our aged network infrastructure in elementary schools will give the technology department the ability to scale network resources to meet bandwidth and related networking needs as Instruction continues to pursue digital, cloud-based resources.

KB: Our Schoology implementation! The project is off to a great start and we really have a unique opportunity to implement a platform that allows us to provide all students with learning opportunities that are relevant to them based on individual needs. I am really excited to be a part of the deployment. We have been one-to-one for the last 15 years, and the implementation of Schoology will provide us with an opportunity to “reset and refresh” our digital learning environment.

ES: How is the role of a school technology specialist or leader changing?

KB: The role of the school technology specialist has changed and will continue to change. When we started our one-to-one initiative, it was all about the technology. Our recent and continued focus is on learning and leveraging technology as a tool to support learning. It is critical for our specialists and leaders to model innovative uses of technology that support student outcomes. It’s easy to get caught up in the newest technology, but the focus should always remain on what’s best for learning.

ES: How big is your budget for technology and infrastructure?

BM: The Operational Technology budget is about $25 million.

ES: What do you think the job will look like in 10 years?

BM: Technology in the data center will continue to evolve to more robust, hyper-converged solutions, and cloud services will be continue to trend as a more viable option in education like it has in the private sector. One of the ongoing concerns for the technology team and myself is to continue to be diligent protecting students, staff and information as technology evolves and more options become available to deliver IT services to students and staff.

KB: We will all be replaced by robots! I think it’s hard to say. Technology has evolved at such a rapid pace, and who knows what the future holds. I do think the traditional elements of teaching and learning will guide the use of modern technologies to support learning programs that adapt based on individual need and the support and leadership of these opportunities will be critical for success. I also think advancements will support the empowerment of students in their learning, allowing them greater choice in the tools and content they select to learn. As a leader, I think it will be important to stay current on advancements in technology so that they can be shared with instructional leaders. We are a connected division and the need to continue to take advantage of the opportunities this connectivity brings will always be a need.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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