NYS K12 Schools in need of Comprehensive Technology Plans (CTPs)

Like just about every other facet of contemporary life, technology has woven itself into the fabric of today’s New York State public school districts from instruction and courseware to daily operations including safety and security.

As such, we must recognize the need for a more strategic approach to the design and implementation of technology systems and related infrastructure in today’s K12 educational facilities.

Failure to do so will result in wasted resources and disappointing attempts to integrate technology into modern day classes and curriculum.

One primary issue of concern is the lack of understanding regarding the “infrastructure” needed to reliably support technology. Without a sound and robust underlying infrastructure of structured cabling, pathways and spaces, attempts to incorporate technology into today’s schools  are destined for failure. This is as applicable to design teams that simply throw some cables and conduits on a drawing and call it a “technology design” as it is to service providers that “upgrade” the network without first considering the necessary supporting infrastructure.

The issue is based on poor communications, not bad intentions; the IT and Construction/Facilities industries speak different languages.

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This graphic shows the relationship between a K12 School District’s Comprehensive Technology Plan (top), supporting material such as ITPs and Technology Conditions Surveys (middle), and resultant Funding-specific plans (bottom).

An important step towards a solution is to develop a Comprehensive Technology Plan (CTP) that takes a holistic view of how to bridge the gap between the district’s current technology conditions and its longer range goals. Some of the items that need to be addressed in a CTP include:

  • All district planning activities including Instructional Technology Plans (ITPs), mission statement and goals, BOCES contracts, and capital projects.
  • Instructional (student computing devices, whiteboards, projectors) and non-instructional (security, data communications, PA, etc.) technology systems.
  • Cable plant and network infrastructure needs to support today’s technology systems.
  • Funding Sources over a 10 year timeframe.
  • Technology refresh rates and related budgets.
  • Professional development of the teachers who will use the technology in the classroom and the IT staff supporting it.
  • Actions Plans by both academic year and district goal.

The graphic above shows the relationship between a district’s CTP and related elements including ITPs, Technology Conditions Surveys, and Funding plans.

Has your district developed a Comprehensive Technology Plan?

If so, please share your comments and experience. If not, here are some resources that might help you get started.

Planning to Succeed for K12 Technology

AT-b-ComprehensiveTechPlanAs summer begins to wane, the team at Archi-Technology is busier than ever working with a number of upstate NYS School Districts and their Architects. Many of these activities are related to conducting Technology Conditions Surveys (TCS) that assess a District’s technology systems, much like a Building Conditions Survey that looks at traditional architectural and MEP systems.

A TCS is, of course, a precursor to the far larger objective of developing a District’s Comprehensive Technology Plan that starts with the findings of the Technology Assessment and ends with the District’s objectives and goals. In between those two points there are a variety of other District-wide planning activities that will provide critical input for development of the Comprehensive Tech Plan. These other planning activities include:

  • 5-Year Capital Plan
  • Instructional Technology Plan
  • Smart School Investment Plan (SSIP)
  • Professional Development Initiatives

Each of these plans effect development of the Comprehensive Tech Plan, not only to assure that the goals and outcomes of each plan are addressed in the comprehensive version, but also for the funding of specific technology infrastructure, systems and components.

For example, while Smart Schools Bond Act District allocations can be used to fund technology infrastructure and certain Communications and Security Systems, you may need to look to your District’s 5-Year Capital Plan for funding of distributed and integrated AV systems.

This two-page PDF illustrates the relationship of a NYS K12 School District’s Comprehensive Technology Plan and other planning activities (pg. 1) as well as how they act as funding sources for different types of technology purchases (pg. 2).

I hope your District finds this information helpful in its Technology planing efforts.

Is there a Technology planning tip or resource you’d like to share? I’d welcome your feedback and ideas.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the summer.

Discuss your District’s technology challenges at NYSASBO Expo Booth #130

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On behalf of Archi-Technology, I am looking forward to the annual NYSASBO (NYS Association of School Business Officials) Summit and Expo.

The 64th Summit runs Sunday through Wednesday, June 7 – 10, in Saratoga Springs, NY. I’ll be staffing Archi-Technology’s booth (#130) at the Expo portion of the Summit Monday and Tuesday.

This is both an exciting and challenging year for NYS School District Business Officials given passage of the Smart Schools Bond Act in November and the resultant $2 billion available for facility and technology upgrades and enhancements.

As independent Technology Consultants with 20 years experience working on education campuses, we act on behalf of facility owners to bridge the many gaps between technology and construction. In fact, the issues facing Districts around the State are familiar to us as they parallel the last burst of statewide K12 technology investment in the early 2000s.

I would be very interested in discussing your District’s current approach to Technology and Smart Schools Investment planning which will be based, in part, on the findings of this year’s Building Conditions Survey.

Archi-Technology is currently working with a number of Western and Central NY School Districts to provide services that may be of interest to your District including:

If you’re attending this year’s NYSASBO Summit, I hope we get a chance to meet —or see each other again—to discuss your District’s technology-related challenges.

TomRauscherIf you’re not attending but would like to talk, please call or send me an email.

Thanks for reading and have a good rest of the week.

— Tom Rauscher, President, FCSI

Preliminary NYS Smart School Bond Act Guidance is now Available!

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School districts around NYS can finally learn more granular details about the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014.

Released on Monday afternoon, the Smart Schools Bond Act Implementation Guidance describes:

“…the process through which school districts will receive their allocations, which will be distributed on a reimbursement basis, the components of the Smart Schools Investment Plan required by the Smart Schools Bond Act, and eligible expenditures under the law. In addition, the guidance provides the following information:
1. Overview of the State Review Process for Smart Schools Investment Plans
2. School District Application Process
3. Smart Schools Bond Act Allocation
4. Allowable Expenditures by Category
5. Requirements for Stakeholder Involvement
6. Inclusion of Nonpublic Schools
7. Treatment of Smart Schools Bond Act Plans and Funds”

As independent technology consultants, of particular interest to us here at Archi-Technology is the following passage:

2.2 School leaders are encouraged to engage in strategic planning for use of these funds to build long-term capacity in their districts. Districts may find it useful to identify leaders in education technology to identify best practices.

I hope you find the attached PDF useful in your K-12 NYS School District technology planning and, on behalf of Archi-Technology,  we look forward to learning how we can assist your district.

Is it the right time for a Security Assessment?

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Since our Technology Conditions Survey (TCS) includes assessing your Security Systems and your future Smart Schools projects can include high-tech security improvements, now is a good time for a Security Assessment.

Fully eligible for state-aid reimbursement as a BCS Additional Service, a Security Assessment goes beyond Security Systems to provide a more comprehensive review of all your physical security components. In other words, do you have everything you need in place to keep your buildings, staff and, most importantly, your students safe?

Security is only as reliable as the weakest link and systems can’t do the job on their own. Many other items related to physical security such as doors, windows, lighting or even landscaping could be the weak link.

Problems with people, policies and procedures also may be the reason an incident goes undetected or isn’t handled properly. A Security Assessment from Archi-Technology provides an objective look at these “softer” components of school security.

One approach that I’ve been considering is that many of the items needed to reduce the risk of vandalism, violence and theft—while improving communications on a daily basis—can have the added benefit of being used in a crisis situation to save lives.

It makes sense to me to take advantage of available state aid to see how your school district is prepared to handle everyday events or the rare crisis situation.

DonBrownI’d like to hear your thoughts on School Security or the value of a Security Assessment.

— Don Brown, P.E., Building Technology Systems specialist

What’s In Your Five-Year Plan?

AT-Blog-TCS-5YearPlanIn New York State, a School District’s Five-Year Plan should include recommendations for correcting items that were found to be deficient during its Building Conditions Survey (BCS). The Plan should include enough information to help plan how capital funds should be spent during the next five years.

But not all of the items in a Five-Year Plan are from deficiencies uncovered during the BCS. Many recommendations are included because the item or system does not or will not meet the District’s current and/or future needs. This is especially true for technology items.

Technology Condition Surveys, like those provided by Archi-Technology, establish a baseline for capabilities that meet minimum requirements but this leaves a lot of room for recommendations. Many technology-based initiatives need to be considered to make good strategic decisions in a Five-Year Plan.

A technology system that receives a passing grade today could be totally unprepared for future capabilities needed to support initiatives for student learning, mass notification and security. Whereas a boiler may only be mentioned every 20 years in capital planning, some technology item(s) should appear in every Five-Year Plan.

Some examples:

  • Currently installed Wireless Access (WA) points capable of supporting the 802.11n wireless networking standard with a single category 5e cable could receive a passing grade in the survey but future (recommended) WA points should be compatible with the 802.11ac standard and be wired with (2) category 6A cables.
  • Currently installed telecommunications cabinets mounted to the floor or wall with proper working clearance, dedicated power, an isolated ground and cable management could receive a passing grade as a telecommunications space. However, for future spaces we would recommend a dedicated Telecommunications Room with environmental conditioning for ease of maintenance, to lengthen the life span of electronic components, and to ensure the security of the telecommunications infrastructure.

DonBrownDoes your Five-Year Plan include technology items? Do you think it should? Let us know.

— Don Brown, P.E., Building Technology Systems specialist

What items should be included in a Technology Condition Survey?

If you agree that a Technology Condition Survey (TCS) is a good idea and that the existing NYS Building Condition Survey (BCS) format is not inclusive enough, then what items should be included in a TCS?

TCS-checklistAt Archi-Technology, we have put together a TCS Checklist form to help our consultants assess Technology infrastructure and systems. Our checklist was developed by experienced vendor-independent technology consultants and is designed to look at the most important aspects of your facility’s Information-based Infrastructure and systems.

We like to use checklists because they help keep the results organized and prevent any important items from slipping through the cracks.

The draft checklist we are currently working with is six-pages long and includes a minimum of 75 items related to technology infrastructure and systems (versus the one paragraph provided in the BCS). A passing mark in all of these categories is an indicator that your facilities are in good shape to keep your information flowing. Information flow ensures that critical business functions can take place, students can receive technology-based instruction, and that their safety can be ensured by the operation of networked security and communications systems.

The following is an outline of categories we selected to include in our TCS survey:

  1. Telecommunication Infrastructure
    • Horizontal Cabling
    • Backbone Cabling
    • Communications Pathways
    • Rooms/Spaces
  2. Data Network
    • Network Hardware
    • Wireless Network
    • Network Security
    • Telecommunications Services
  3. Instructional Technology
    • Integrated AV Systems
    • PCs, Laptops, Tablets
    • Servers
  4. Communication Systems
    • PA System
    • Telephone System
    • Local Pa/Sound reinforcement systems
    • Master Clock System
  5. Safety and Security Systems
    • Access Control System
    • Intrusion Alarm System
    • Visitor Entry System
    • Video Surveillance System

Do you agree passing TCS grades in these categories will ensure information flow? Do you think this format is better than the single category as per the NYS BCS form?

DonBrownThanks for reading and let me know what you think.

— Don Brown, P.E., CLA Consultant

Form Follows Function…Unless It’s An Existing BCS Form

The existing Building Condition Survey (BCS) Form lumps lots of different system types into one category which makes it difficult to access these vital building components, and easy to omit or miss critical systems that should be assessed.

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School Facility Reports Cards, five-year Capital Improvement Plans, and Building Condition Surveys all mention the need to keep major systems upgraded. The attached communications section taken from the 2010 BCS is the only place to document the condition of all of a school’s Communications and information-based systems, and related infrastructure.

If you look at the list of all these building systems (as many as 20), they would all likely have different:

  • Conditions
  • Dates for year of last major Reconstruction/Replacement
  • Estimate years of expected remaining life.

In past technology surveys, I’ve expanded the Comments section to try to document as much of this information as possible to have supporting documentation for the corresponding five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

But not all consultants performing Building Condition Surveys have the same background so another consultant may decide that Communications Systems is limited to Public Address (PA), and will consequently neither access nor document the condition of other systems This can lead to the exclusion of major technology-based systems such as Telephone, Data Network and Access Control from your 5-year Plan.

Do you think it makes sense to expand the BSC forms to include technology infrastructure and systems?

DonBrownThanks for reading and I’d be interested to hear from you.

— Don Brown, P.E., CLA Consultant

NYS Smart Schools Planning In Action@Pembroke CSD

As the father of two children who are both students at Pembroke Central School District (NY), I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email with a Technology Survey for Pembroke Parents and Guardians.

pembroke_dragonsThe survey, which took less than five minutes to complete, asked questions about the types of internet connections, devices and digital communication practices my family has at home as well as soliciting some general thoughts on potential uses of the district’s $1.1 million allocation from the NYS Smart Schools Bond Act.

As a technology professional actively engaged in the education market, it was satisfying to see Pembroke CSD reaching out to its stakeholders for direct input into how to best spend this one-time NYS-supplied windfall.

From a more personal perspective, the survey was a validation on the evolution of the classroom from my chalkboard-and-eraser days to my kids’ more digitally based experiences. One can only wonder what changes the next ten or 15 years will bring not only to the classroom but everywhere in our lives.

Here’s a link to the Technology Survey for Pembroke Parents and Guardians.

AT-GStone-smAs school districts around NYS start preparing for Smart Schools Investment Planning, I’d like to hear what teachers, technologists and students think are some of the most effective uses of technology in today’s classrooms. What’s your thoughts?

Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead.

— Gregg Stone, K–12 Practice Group Manager

Is the 4th Utility included in your District’s 2015 Building Conditions Survey?

AT-TCS-01-introFor NYS school districts, the Building Condition Survey (BCS) is designed to identify facility-related issues that need to be addressed to ensure student learning and safety. The results of the BCS assessment are used as a basis for the district’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Existing BCS forms include systems that deliver the three major energy utilities—gas, electric and water—but fail to address the newer fourth major utility: information.

Information-based infrastructure and systems in the 21st century are just as important as their energy-delivering counterparts and should receive equal attention in your district’s BCS, five-year plan and School Facility Report Cards.

In this series of weekly blogs, I’ll be discussing the idea of adding a technology assessment component to your BCS survey to ensure your district’s information flows as well as its energy. This separate technology assessment is eligible for state aid and can be used as a starting point for your Smart Schools Investment Plan.

Are your information-based systems as critical as to operations as your energy systems? Do you think it makes sense to add a technology component to the BCS?

DonBrownI’d be interested to hear your opinions and experiences in this area.

— Don Brown, P.E., CLA Consultant