Tech Committee: part I


Ok, so my bad feelings were pretty much are the mark. It was all about the e-rate, and Mr. Grinnip spun it up like how “we”, the hapless “volunteers” sitting around the table, have to help him fill in the necessary blanks on the federal form so he can submit it so we can get “big money”. It was a mess. There was some ….. maybe kinda-sorta interesting discussion, which is more than I expected, to tell the truth.

I don’t have time right now to go into too many details, so I’ll have to revisit this topic. I made time. But let’s start with something. Like interesting news (in my opinion – and boy, I have a lot of them tonight! *grin* ).

Grinnip actually does want to go with wireless. In fact, BTW already has a Guest account that is accessible inside the building. When I broached the topic of having a policy of making it ubiquitous, he came back with concerns about policing and managing so many open access points. While he has a valid point, I can’t see Starbucks and McDonald’s having a fleet of IT Security Cops monitoring every single connected device. But hey, maybe I am wrong. What is the reality? What security practices are necessary in this kind of situation, and what is just urban legend?

I have to confess, Grinnip did surprise me when he said they had three separate VLANs at BTW. They are further along than I had thought. 🙂

They have an ambitious goal of getting wireless and a computer in every student’s hand by 2014. This is such a huge change from the perception of Grinnip I had from before the meeting. It is unclear to me all the reasoning and how the dots connect, but he spoke of how in 2014 every single 3-11th grader is going to have to take the ISAT/PSAE at the exact same time on computers. Really?!? That is Federally mandated? I am going to have to look into that some more.

And now the downers, the more negative aspects of this “Tech Planning Committee Meeting”. Grinnip didn’t tell any of the staff what was going on prior to the meeting. That is just bad form. There were perhaps 10 total representatives from various schools, including Centennial and Stratton. Grinnip plopped down an 86 page report (printed, mind you – at least it was double-sided) in front of every person. Ylech! He then preceeded to tell us that he needed help filling in all the justifications (aka, academically-tied goals) for why we should get this grant (the eRate). We are talking about 30 some pages that need to be filled out, somehow aligning the goals of the IT department with the goals of the school district. Yes, I know, that this should be done in the first place sounds like a no-brainer, of course. What is mind-boggling is that as a collective, we were blindsided by this predicament and essentially burdened with the responsibility of connecting those dots. At least, that is my perception of what happened.

The 86-page report we had in front of us was from when the IT department did this back in 2008. Apparently, it has to be renewed every 3 years. Lucky us. The last time they did this, Culver and Michael Marassa’s name was on it, and they had the “Great Schools, Together” consortium to write out all the goals and academic justifications. Now we have a room full of building representatives that have no idea what is going on. And here is the funny part – the GST goals sound really lofty, really ambitious, the kinda of stuff you could win awards for. But where is the accountability? In fact, one bold person pointed out the complete lack of any ramifications of failing to meet these goals. Its all paperwork. The Feds just want us to jump through hoops, dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. Nobody seems to care how we did on the goals from 2008. And I tell you, I literally laughed when I read the stuff about community engagement. Whoo boy!

About half-way through the meeting, I started thinking, why the heck aren’t Dr. Malito and Dr. Judy Weigand in the room, or at least tasked with some form of responsibility on this? This is right up their alleys; who better to tackle these tasks? I think it is really important to get the community on-board and on the same page, but we are just out of our league in some of these things. I mean, the GST, which was composed of several hundred folks from all walks of life (almost) and organized into various subcommittees and interacting in several different formats, set the bar really high in this particular exercise. And believe you me, I think a lot of good things came out of the GST, I just really am missing the follow-through.

One of the oft-repeated sentiments (from the IT staff) was that the IT staff are way overworked. A topic of newly purchased computers that are supposed to be delivered to Jefferson and Stratton came up. Where are they? Do they even exist? Roger and Don (the other IT representative, whom I had not met before) belabored the point of having to work through several hundred computers, one at a time. I so wanted to ask “Doing what?!?” In an email, I did ask if the community can help. I am expecting them to come back with something along the lines of “No, this work is too complicated and only IT staff can do it”. Likewise, they can’t bother Wiegand or Malito to help fill in the grant form because they are too busy. Ok, I know first-hand that Dr. Bob Malito is working crazy hours. I know he is busy. But he told me me he loves digging into numbers and crunching stats. He is not a normal person. *grin* Even if he is too busy, he is going to find alternatives. He is like that – he doesn’t just give up.

To sum it up, I disliked the “meeting”. I disliked the projection of guilt and “urgency” from the IT staff unto the “volunteers” around the table. I appreciated the inside look of things, and I appreciate gaining a new understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. And I am glad that Grinnip is not 100% anti-wireless. 😀

Constructive criticism time. As said in the meeting, the business goals of the Administration (you know, teaching kids, that kind of stuff) need to drive technology decisions. It looks like we are doing things backwards; it appears that the IT department is plunging ahead with their ideas and trying to cover their path as they go. As I mentioned previously, Dr. Malito has painstakingly spelled out what Unit 4 needs to work on. And that includes Technology (and wireless) and community engagement. In my opinion, that needs to be the over-arching mission of the Technology Plan, to address those particular points. If any future technology plans do not (or cannot) fit into that broad categorization, then they should be seriously questioned at best, or removed. I believe, although I have not seen the details, that Dr. Malito’s presentation included all the justification that is needed for the eRate application.

The 2nd half of this is that Unit 4 really needs to get the community on the same page. Those Top 5 items are not shared or broadcasted in any form that I know of. Other than this blog. Yes, there is a bulletted list that kinda covers Dr. Malito’s top concerns, if you crawl through the appropriate Board Meeting Agenda. But that’s it. In my opinion, it seems it would be best to have a forum, accompanied with a News-Gazette article, a KCN message, a Facebook blurb, and an online whitepaper. A forum in which the Top 5 are not only listed and briefly covered in detail, but in which the community can provide their thoughts. It seems to me that in order for the community to take ownership of these issues (which I think we should. I mean, I STRONGLY THINK WE SHOULD!), they have to feel like they are a part of the process, a part of the solution.

I could be wrong. Maybe.

A final thought. When I talk to folks at the Mellon Center face-to-face, I cannot help but be vicariously overwhelmed. From what they say, they are working their tails off. And the INBOX only gets larger as more people leave. There is something wrong. Something systemic is choking the life out of these well-intentioned souls. Unless some of them are chronic and well-trained liars, which I suppose is a possibility, but not one I can believe of the people I have personally met. The BOE, the EEE, the Facilities Committee, all these almost seem like prison sentences. Why… What is going on?


One Response to “Tech Committee: part I”

  1. March 12th Regular Board Meeting « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] his Technology Plan, stating that this is something they have to do every three years. I covered this a little bit back in September. So nothing new to see here. In fact, in felt very much like a Jedi […]

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