Sometimes it feels like a school district’s IT department doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Yes, technology is a part of today’s education more than ever, but when technology is running smoothly, it’s easy to forget that IT departments and staff exist to keep the infrastructure running.

In my six years as director of technology in the Pittsburg Independent School District, a city about 120 miles east of Dallas, we’ve gone through a lot of changes, not to mention what the pandemic has put us through. But when COVID-19 forced us all into remote learning almost overnight, my team of six was able to move 2,500 students into a one-to-one program quickly and quite successfully.

Looking back, I realize there were many factors that contributed to the team’s stellar performance. What follows are a few points that can help other IT departments better address future challenges while improving operations overall in the long run.

Support from the administration is vital

My superintendent, Terry Waldrep, has a degree in computer science, and the school board president, Greg Miller, is a senior manager for a technology company with a PhD in information technology. In some situations, CIOs may fear being judged by leaders like these, but here it’s just the opposite. While some people may perceive that fixing an IT problem or rolling out new hardware is as simple as knowing which button to push, both understand the complexity of IT and the importance of planning and systems to an IT department.

For example, when our district needed to implement multi-factor authentication to update ransomware policies, I knew the technical change was relatively simple. But when I communicated the importance of this new policy and staff training, I feared resistance. Our school board president not only understood why we were taking this step, but he offered his expertise as a resource if needed to convince skeptical staff about the change. It’s very helpful to have someone, both at the board and executive level, who understands IT and is as invested in its success as my team and I.

Listen to your employees

When our schools switched overnight to individualized instruction and we had to set up a student help desk, I was worried about burning out the staff. Not only was our department physically handling computers for students and staff in the early days of the virus, but every staff member was being pulled in many directions at the same time.

To help them, I got approval to hire a help desk assistant for the entire department to organize the help desk. This seemingly small addition helped tremendously. Not only did it affirm their importance as individuals and as part of a team, but it also reset the tasks for our group of six. They became more efficient, better organized and less stressed. Never forget that switching in and out of different operating modes is expensive; eliminating inefficiencies makes the whole department greater than the sum of its parts.

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