School administrators are constantly balancing numerous and competing priorities—they must oversee student recruitment and enrollment, observe and offer constructive feedback on classroom instruction, and coordinate the logistics of student arrival and dismissal on a daily basis. Moreover, technology has emerged as a crucial focus, especially in light of the extensive utilization of remote and hybrid learning approaches.
In the absence of a dedicated information technology (IT) manager, administrators often find themselves pulled in multiple directions and having to address multiple, yet specific, IT situations that are often outside their personal area of expertise—troubleshooting a student’s specific laptop or tablet issue, addressing video conferencing needs for teachers and staff, or assisting parents with accessing parent/teacher messaging platforms or their student’s grades.
Indeed, beyond the issues outlined above, relying on a single staff member for IT needs can also present risks both from a logistical standpoint and in the arena of security. For instance, what does a small school do if the staff member who provided IT services in the past suddenly becomes unavailable? Do they transfer the responsibility to another staff member or hire an IT manager? And what mechanism ensures that the new manager will have access to all of the institution’s data and files?
Relying on a single staff person for IT management can be a risk
In 2018, this is exactly the situation that St. John Bosco found itself in when the teacher in charge of the school’s IT department decided to retire. At that moment, the small, private Catholic School, located in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, needed to make an important decision—whether to hire an individual to address the school’s IT needs, or whether to use an outside Managed Service Provider.
“A school might think they could hire a full-time IT person for the same money, or for less money,” remarks Nathan Drager, president of Quantum Technologies. “But what if that person quits, or gets sick, or is incapacitated for some reason—what do you do while trying to hire a replacement? In a way,” he continues, “to ensure security and reduce vulnerability, you need human redundancy, just like you need redundancy in any other system. When you outsource your IT to Quantum, you get the systems, the practices and multiple people as needed.”
“We debated hiring a single person to handle technology—an IT manager,” says Vickie Dassler, principal at St. John Bosco, “but in the end, we decided to contract with Quantum. Now,” she continues, “we’re no longer depending on a single person. Instead, we have Quantum’s staff of 30. They are well versed in all aspects of the latest technology and make it easy for us to get the best and most cost-effective equipment.”
“With around 20 staff members,” Drager notes, “St. John Bosco is the perfect size to outsource their IT. If it was larger—say a staff of 100—it would make more sense for the school to employ a hands-on, internal IT manager, and then contract with Quantum Technologies as a co-manager, which is what the much larger Southern Door School District does.”
Setting up St. John Bosco for success
“The school’s handover to Quantum took about a month, and we did it over the summer months, so students wouldn’t be disrupted,” recalls Drager. “Initially,” he continues, “Quantum maintained and managed the St. John Bosco system as it was. Then, during the course of the first year of the contract, we were able to get all of the computers cleaned up, documented, and upgraded to Windows 10. Additionally,” he remarks, “Quantum secured all existing systems and evaluated them for longevity—the age of each item, expected end of life—then addressed how the school’s current tech would inform what the school wanted to do in the future, and what technology those goals required.”
With that information, Quantum and St. John Bosco developed a 3-year roadmap that allowed the school to develop a technology refresh and replacement schedule, establish priorities, and formulate a budget.
By the second summer of the contract—the summer of 2019—Quantum had replaced all the student and staff computers and tablets, which are used in lower grades and in some upper-grade science classes.
Customizing tech to support student creativity and innovation
Once they made the decision to use a Managed Service Provider for IT support, a school like St. John Bosco could have very easily contracted with a larger, nationally-known provider. However, working closely with a local provider comes with benefits—namely, Quantum was able to work closely with the school and customize their tech setup—providing St. John Bosco with specific technology options that addressed the unique needs of the school’s student body.
In this case, while Quantum upgraded file storage to Google Cloud, and software to Google Apps, they avoided upgrading the student’s computers to Google Chromebooks, instead opting to continue with computers that run Windows OS, like Lenovo and Hewlett Packard. The reason for this was simple but important. Drager explains, “Part of the reason we stayed with Windows computers is that St. John Bosco uses a very advanced Frontier 3 STEM—or, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—offering called Project Lead The Way (PLTW).”
While a Frontier 1 STEM program provides teachers with the technology to largely replicate what they had already been doing with paper, and where Frontier 2 uses technology for better collaboration and improved efficiency, Frontier 3 programs—like PLTW—use technology to transform learning into a more student-oriented and individualized experience, allowing students to explore subjects like robotics and encouraging group problem solving.
At schools where students use Chromebooks, only the teacher can interact with a 3-D printer. So, in order to allow for the increased student flexibility and creativity associated with programs like PLTW, Quantum Technologies selected computers that matched the school’s upper-level, Frontier 3 STEM needs, choosing Lenovo computers running Windows and allowing all students to connect directly to the school’s 3D printer. Moreover, all students were provided with Google, Microsoft and Apple accounts, affording them the opportunity to become fluent in all three major platforms.
A technology refresh just before COVID-19 turned learning remote…
While strategic, long-term planning is an important aspect of Quantum Technologies’ Managed IT services, one of the biggest benefits to the tech upgrades they provided St. John Bosco in the summers of 2018 and 2019 had more to do with fortuitous timing than anything else.
“Generally, we need to work through the different areas we’re supporting—areas like student safety and security, followed by tools to make the staff life easier,” Drager explains. “Luckily, starting when we did gave us time to onboard the school and figure out all the different systems before COVID-19 hit.” He continues, “Perhaps more importantly, all of that pre-pandemic work meant the new devices were already set up for remote learning. As a result, Quantum brought a lot of value to the school in the beginning of 2020 because we had a fixed contract price, and all of a sudden their needs absolutely skyrocketed.”
Over the years, Drager has come to believe that technology support companies rely too much on remote assistance—an approach whereby a worker connects to a user’s computer online and fixes problems. Instead, he considers the in-person relationship between a school and its Managed Service Provider to be extremely important.
“When a customer like St. John Bosco has a problem, we go on site and fix it,” Drager remarks. “They aren’t billed separately for service calls,” he continues, “rather, it’s all part of the complete maintenance contract—we signed up to keep their systems secure, available and fully backed up, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Today, Quantum occupies its own office at St. John Bosco and Drager, along other Quantum technicians, check in at least once a week. “We check in with administrators and teachers to see if they need help with anything technical,” Drager says. “It keeps us connected in the school. And often, because they know we’re there every week, they save their low priority issues for our weekly appearance.” “Quantum ensures we have no issues on a daily basis,” Dassler remarks. “They provide support very quickly when needed,’ she adds, “and Nathan, Erin, Carly and Journey are all awesome to work with.”