September 23, 2022

Article
3 min

K–12 Schools: Where Do We Go from Here?

Managed services for education help districts bridge knowledge gaps and maintain IT gains.

Dr. Akilah Willery

Wendy Jones

Katerina Nikolaides

The pandemic pushed K–12 schools into a major transition, and now districts find themselves at another turning point. Will everything go back to how it used to be, or will schools use the lessons of 2020 and 2021 to move forward in new ways? For many districts, that’s a question that leads to more questions.

What did we learn from the pandemic, especially about virtual classrooms and blended instruction? What do we do now with our web cameras and other tools? How can we address gaps in professional development related to the effective use of devices? And with so many teachers leaving the profession, can we harness the power of technology to address new vacancies? For instance, if a district lacks the staff to provide instruction in an area such as calculus or trigonometry, could it use technology to partner with a neighboring district to address this shortcoming? 

Overall, this is a time of identifying challenges and getting creative with solutions as districts decide how to move forward.

Budgetary and IT Gaps Leave Schools Struggling to Retain Technology Gains

One trend we see is schools struggling to maintain the progress they achieved during the pandemic, particularly with cloud computing resources. Many schools moved quickly to the cloud to support virtual learning, and some have backtracked to on-premises infrastructures. Often, this ends up limiting the resources available to students. 

For example, cloud-based solutions enabled schools to offer computer-aided design and other advanced software through Amazon Web Services, which gave students the flexibility to access those tools anywhere. Now, some schools are deciding they no longer need — or can no longer afford — those resources. 

Plenty of schools recognize the value of the cloud and are expanding their adoption of it. But in other cases, there may be a reluctance to figure out how a school can blend the old and the new so that it can continue to use these valuable tools. 

Often, an internal IT gap is a factor in these decisions. Many K–12 teams lack extensive experience with the cloud, which creates hesitancy to maintain those new environments. Cybersecurity is another area where we see a significant knowledge gap. Ransomware has targeted schools across the country, many of which are vulnerable to these attacks. Yet the shortage of qualified IT professionals, combined with the difficulty of competing with private sector salaries, makes it hard for many districts to build internal expertise in this area.

Managed Services Deliver Cost-Effective Support for Internal IT

Many schools are meeting these challenges by supplementing internal IT resources with managed services. These have become incredibly flexible in recent years, giving districts a great deal of choice about usage, timelines and cost. They allow districts to hire the expertise they need, when they need it, for as little or as much time as necessary.

Managed services can offer security expertise, provide support for systems migrated or transitioned to the cloud, or handle day-to-day tasks and troubleshooting while internal teams focus on strategic improvements. Some customers worry that managed services are a road to replacing internal IT professionals, which is far from the norm we see. More commonly, districts find that tiered managed services are a valuable, cost-effective way to obtain IT expertise they wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Of course, one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that IT is not a nice-to-have resource. It’s a must. In school after school, when everything shut down, it was the IT department that saved the day. Now, districts are figuring out the best ways to maintain their IT innovations, support technical and teaching staff, and continue the creative problem-solving that served them well during the pandemic.

Repurposing Space Provides New Ways to Build Capacity

The tools and resources purchased during the pandemic are still relevant. They can connect teachers and students to first-person resources and immersive environments. Teams of students can receive coaching in a computer science class from an actual CS professional who volunteers time through a hosted virtual session. With the Microsoft reading coach, students can practice reading with an artificial intelligence-driven component to manage their own development. With Intel’s Skills for Innovation, students can pull from their recent pandemic-era experience to map out ways to curtail future disease outbreaks. The possibilities are endless. 

We are also seeing school districts using CDW’s Blueprint to Design process to create virtual teaching studios on campuses. A virtual teaching studio can provide solutions to campuses that want to deliver professional development to an entire staff. It can be a creative way for teacher teams to share techniques from master teachers and instructional coaches. For students who may still require remote learning options, this can be a central location for teachers to deliver synchronous and asynchronous lessons. Using the virtual studio and new technologies, some schools may be able to record administrative messages for parents and community members in multiple languages.

Story by 

Dr. Akilah Willery, a former executive director of professional and digital learning who now serves as a K–12 education strategist with CDW. She partners with administrators, curriculum leaders and technology teams to ensure all stakeholders understand technology’s impact in the classroom.

Wendy Jones, the K–12 education strategist manager for CDW Education. Jones is a lifelong educator with extensive district leadership experience. As a former education strategist, she supports the team as it provides educational and thought leadership, empowers digital transformation, and builds relationships that impact teaching and learning for CDW Education customers.

Katerina Nikolaides, a product manager in the Services Research and Development division of CDW. Nikolaides has an MBA and over 17 years of product marketing management, development and operational management experience, with 13 of those years in IT (data center and cloud). She led the creation and development of cloud managed services within CDW, including many innovative products and services to drive revenue growth.

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