Schools need support for burgeoning tech supply

Schools need support for burgeoning tech supply

Michele Ellson

Chart courtesy of the Alameda Unified School District.

Alameda schools are getting more of the technology families whose children attend them have been clamoring for. But supporting and maintaining new computers and equipment are proving to be challenges the district may need to hire more staff and broaden bandwidth to address.

The district has been purchasing new technology using money from the Measure A school parcel tax, of which five percent – about $600,000 a year – has been reserved for computers, document cameras and other digital tools. And district officials are using another $650,000 in state Common Core standards implementation funding to purchase 1,620 Google Chromebooks and carts to store them in; the computers’ primary use will be for online testing.

But the tech support the district has to hired to maintain all that hardware may be smaller than what is needed, district officials said – a problem that may be slowing its ability to quickly fix computers, printers and other technology when it goes offline.

The district’s information technology chief, Rob van Herk, said Alameda Unified has just one staff person to service every 1,000 computers in the public schools, for a total of eight staffers; the district lacks support staff that can service Apple products like iPads if they aren’t working properly. Van Herk told the school board on Tuesday that he’s working to hire someone who can maintain the Chromebooks the district may be using as soon as this spring, for practice tests.

The district has spent Measure A money on staffing – nearly $260,000 in 2011-12 – and is also using Common Core support funding for staff.

Van Herk said his department usually responds to work orders from schools in 15 to 20 days; he said the department still has work orders submitted in August. Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the district’s goal is to respond within 48 hours.

Vital said one school had printers down for six weeks, while board member Barbara Kahn said she was told half the computers in the lab where her granddaughter attends school don’t work.

Vital said she’s trying not to hire more staff at the district office, but she thinks another three or four information technology staffers may be needed to more effectively manage the district’s tech. Kahn asked whether teachers could be trained to troubleshoot computer and equipment problems at each school site.

“This is an area where (staff) are needed,” Vital said.

The district has grappled for years with the technology issue – what to buy, how to support it, and how to ensure that teachers and students can use whatever is purchased.

District leaders have used Measure A money to ensure schools have a uniform baseline of technology – at least one computer lab for each school and document cameras and LCD projectors in each classroom. But the number and type of computers per student vary widely from campus to campus, a chart presented Tuesday shows; some of the money used to pay for technology – and the decisions about what to buy – come from school-based PTAs, rather than the district's tech experts. (The numbers don’t include Chromebooks the district has already received or iPads some schools possess, or devices teachers and staff may bring from home, district spokeswoman Susan Davis said.)

The district has been working to boost its wireless and e-mail storage capacity, Van Herk said, and the district is planning to buy the Microsoft SharePoint intranet and document storage system for teachers to use. The federal government may also help the district build wireless capacity: The Federal Communications Commission has reportedly decided to double spending on high-speed internet for schools and libraries.

But the district is also still trying to work out what devices students are allowed to use on campus and how they may be used. Van Herk said the district can monitor whether someone is, for example, using the district’s wireless to stream a bandwidth hog like Netflix onto their phone – and shut the device out.

District officials also need to make sure teachers and students have the skills to use whatever is bought, board members said.

Board member Mike McMahon asked who will be tasked with making sure students who have for years taken standardized tests with a pencil and paper will have the skills to complete new assessments online. Vital said students will now need to learn keyboarding skills in the upper elementary school years.

“There aren’t typing classes anymore,” she said.

Related: Schools leaders draft plan to put technology into classrooms


Submitted by WestEnd Parent (not verified) on Thu, Feb 13, 2014

So maybe now the AUSD will take responsibility for losing families to charters, as this post on the AlamedaPatch shows:

Submitted by Betsy Brazy (not verified) on Thu, Feb 13, 2014

My impression is that AUSD's technology is seat-of-the-pants rather than any sort of master plan.

Submitted by David Kirwin (not verified) on Sat, Feb 15, 2014

AUSD Technology dept also spent $5M of the Measure C Bond money to upgrade the systems and purchase equipment. I believe Betsy is correct about a lack of any consistent plan. Your article suggests some serious decision making problems. Why does District purchase equipment it is unable to maintain? Why no service agreements? Doesn't every major purchase decision need BOE approval?If not, it should. Why does AUSD allow PTAs to make purchases of equipment that the District cannot maintain? BOE member Kahn had great question about teacher training that Vital seemed to disregard. Of course teachers needs training like anyone else. No one is born knowing this stuff, and teachers/staff should not have to be forced to be helplessly reliant on an over-burdened tech dept. Can't teachers at least be provided a file of simple and common machine or cabling fixes,be provided with addresses of online assistance sites? YouTube or like sites provide great access to learning how to fix all kinds of things. Isn't self-reliance a core goal of our education system anymore?

Submitted by Susan Davis (co... (not verified) on Sat, Feb 15, 2014

Hi Betsy,

AUSD does indeed have a "master plan" for technology, which you can download here:

This "Educational Technology Plan," which was presented to the Board of Education on May 28, 2013, covers a wide range of topics, including hardware, software, and infrastructure; curriculum development, digital literacy, and Common Core assessments; and ethics, digital citizenship, and cyber-safety. The plan has been approved by the California Department of Education. It's 90 pages long; I recommend reading the Executive Summary!

Submitted by David Kirwin (not verified) on Mon, Feb 17, 2014


Thank you for providing this link to the tech master plan. Much of the plan is related to benchmark timelines. Are the reports on how we have been accomplishing these goals also now available online?