EGSD technology continues to grow despite turnover, funding woes
Technology at East Grand School District dances a line between innovation and careful planning, but the responsibilities are piling up.
During an update to the district, technology director Kery Harrelson described a busy fall updating systems and installing new technology.
“Everything is just changing so quickly,” Harrelson said.
One of the biggest technology challenges for the district has just started picking up. A major project this year is to improve safety and security at the district.
While a big part of this project focuses on construction of main entryways at East Grand Middle School and Fraser Valley Elementary, plans also involve the installation of new locks, exterior key fob systems and additional security camera improvements. That’s where Harrelson comes in.
He juggles the technological needs of the district, including these security updates. Beyond that, it seems to Harrelson that everything has a tech component now — right down to heating and ventilation systems. It means his tech department is continuously being handed more responsibilities.
Since Harrelson began working for the district in 2005, his motto has been “it will work.” And it has. Harrelson described a recent survey of teachers and staff in districts across the country in which East Grand’s tech department was rated one of the best.
Harrelson puts a lot of research into technology at the school. More than once, East Grand has been the first district in the state to implement new tech systems.
East Grand was one of the first districts to transfer almost everything to the cloud and eliminate the need for almost all servers at the district, reducing capital costs by 40%. They’re one of the first to use the wireless network that they use and the first to use the security camera system that they use.
While Harrelson doesn’t like to be on the “bloody cutting edge,” once he sees systems working successfully for other districts across the country, he’s willing to bring them in. Then he works with the systems to make sure they’re meeting the district’s goals.
School districts from around Colorado often look to Harrelson for advice and guidance with their tech upgrades. Many have modeled systems based on East Grand’s.
While that means he usually can’t refer to other Colorado districts for advice, Harrelson still does his homework.
“I put a lot of work into research and studying how to make things work the best that it can,” Harrelson said. “We try things and fail as well, but I’m certainly not afraid of failure so we press on. I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”
Of course, technology isn’t free. Harrelson has to balance these innovations with his yearly budget and he does not take the investments lightly.
“When I create my budgets, I am pretty aware of the $50,000 markers,” Harrelson said. “Basically, a teachers costs the district about $50,000 a year between salary and benefits. I’m aware when I hit that mark that I have either eliminated a teacher or made it so we can’t hire a teacher.”
The balance between new technology needs and funding is a hard one to strike, Harrelson said, and there is no shortage of want in the district. He approaches each situation individually and tries to weigh all the options available.
The other challenge facing the tech department comes from impending turnover. Three of the Harrelson’s four-person staff plan to retire in the next five years, including Harrelson himself.
The department hasn’t hired a new employee in eight years, so the speedy turnover will be a challenge. The positions have a steep learning curve.
“With as quickly as things change, it’s probably a year before a staff member can be effective,” Harrelson said.
Beyond that, finding a qualified candidate will also be a struggle. With low unemployment rates and high demand for tech savvy candidates, the district may struggle to attract skilled replacements.
With these challenges, Harrelson works smart. His tech moves have helped cut costs; by moving systems to the cloud, he cut capital costs by 40%. The demands for tech and on the tech department are ever increasing, but he faces these tasks head on.
“We have certain goals, things we need to accomplish,” Harrelson said.
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