In the Learning Counsel’s Regional Learning Leadership Symposia, the final act is always the Administrator’s Panel Discussion. These tend to be chock full of common sense solutions, and are presented in a no-holds-barred style that gets you right to the heart of the challenges American is having in public education.

This year’s panel discussion features Jay Heap, Associate Superintendent, Technology Services at Georgia Department of Education and Monika Davis, Chief Information Officer at Dekalb County School District.

LeiLani Cauthen, panel moderator and Learning Counsel CEO, opened the discussion by asking about the challenges each was seeing, and what solutions were in the offing.

According to Heap, “Back in 2019, the challenge was getting the schools the bandwidth that they needed, in order to deliver digital content or to get folks into the digital transformation. Because at that point, it was a forced digital transformation. So, our biggest challenge was increasing the bandwidth across the state. Not only doubled it, but then doubled it again for all our districts. Our new challenge now is getting Internet service to the homes of folks. Unfortunately, it's device and service oriented. And from a state perspective, we're not able to actually buy those (hotspot) devices and give them out, it has to be parent-originated.

But there's a lot of money out there, a lot of opportunity out there. And we're trying to get the word out through folks like Monica in our monthly CIO meetings, how we can get devices into the hands of kids that need it. We have a good participation from our telecom partners and our broadband partners. We've tried to make it as easy as possible. It requires a form from the school. We have actually tried to put that into our major SISs. So, parents don't even have to go to the school to ask. They just print the form out and they can go ahead and submit that and try to get those devices. We understand that districts across the state are making all kinds of digital gains. The challenge for many is getting that device to the student and then getting the student to actually use the connected device at the time.”

Davis continued the thought with real success from the DeKalb County School District. “If I had to list my number one challenge, I would say device management. Having to manage and ensure that everyone has equitable access to devices. We are systemically 1:1, and not only with students, but also with staff, because we transition from the teachers having another device sitting on their desk. So, all the teachers have their laptops, which is a huge, huge transition. And I have five major goals right now that I work through. We have 94,000 students and about 15,000 teachers. We have about 120,000 devices that are new 1:1. But then we have some legacy devices that are not necessarily assigned to people. We call them site devices. In our infrastructure, we probably have about 160,000 devices.

“You have to look at the device itself and what is going to be required of the device. Obviously, requirements drive what device you choose, because at the end of the day, it's for learning. And so, that's that piece of it. But at the same time, you have all these other parameters that you have to consider. The second one, of course is enhancing, stabilizing as well as modernizing our network and data center infrastructure. That's the next thing. So just being able to say, let's stabilize our environment, make sure we are good where we are.

“So, three, security, security, security. And the only reason security is not number one is that you have to have a device, you have to connect to something. Yeah. And then once you get connected to something, you have to keep that connection secure. So, you're talking about information data, data governance. You're talking about cyber security, which is what I call the human firewall and decisions that people make. So, making sure that that's from a cyber security perspective, we are hardening that environment. And then the fourth piece, is physical security. And if you all know what happened just yesterday, physical security is, is critical. In St. Louis, there was another school shooting. All of those security cameras, you have badge access. What does all that connect to? The network? It's an end point device. So, hardening that environment as well and making sure they all talk together and speak together. Huge.

“The fifth one is my favorite one. We are empowering our digital village to support our digital dreamers (our students). The students can't be great if the adults don't allow them to be and don't give them an environment in which to be great. And when adults do not understand the technology in a way that they need to understand the technology, then it won't happen. And so, the students get frustrated and they start doing these things just to aggravate the adults and to get around it so they can try to be great on their own. So, you want to make sure that your environments can support the students. The other four are important because that's the work I have to do. But that fifth one is the work that I was born to do.”

This is just a piece of the passionate panel discussion held in Atlanta. Evidently in Hot Lanta, they blend two parts passion with three parts ‘Let’s do what works.’ And they end up with solutions you’ll love to try in your own district. This administrator panel discussion is loaded from the word go, and their understanding and uses of technology are inspiring, and promise to help you in your own district as well.