The Official Blog of Forecast5 Analytics

Debbie Karcher
Debbie Karcher

Decision Support, Geoanalytics, Mapping, Transparency, K-12, 5Lab, COVID-19

The New Normal – Planning for Technology Needs

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 10:35:49 AM

COVID-19 has rapidly shifted both learning and the workforce into a remote, digital environment. As students, teachers, and parents settle into the "new normal", this is the ideal time for Information Technology (IT) teams to begin planning for what needs to happen between now and the end of this school year, for summer school, and for the opening of school activities.

System activities that you've typically scheduled a year in advance are going to be influenced—and potentially changed significantly—by COVID-19. Some of the questions that you and your team should be asking at this point include:

  • Are your systems ready to accommodate all the relevant learning models for summer school and the opening of the school year? Can your assessment systems support remote testing if schools decide that they need to determine grade placement for new and/or missing students?

  • Will school boundaries be impacted by enrollment and scheduling changes?

  • How will devices loaned to teachers and students be maintained?

  • How will eLearning be assessed? How are you measuring students' online activities and results? What about students that are "missing"? Can you track where all the devices are and whether they are in use? What about WI-FI access points?

  • Have you changed your disaster recovery and business continuity plans to accommodate the remote workforce?

  • June 1 marks the beginning of storm season for most states. If schools are still going to be used as shelters, how will that work with COVID-19 and social distancing mandates?

The Importance of Scenario Planning

It is too soon to know if schools will be opened for the fall, but it appears that most states have decided not to return for the 2019-2020 school year. This means that school may begin in the summer, may not open until fall, or might operate with a combination of in-person and remote learning. Many decisions will have to be made, and the best way for IT to respond is to try to provide solutions that can accommodate all possible scenarios for an indefinite time period.

Scheduling, Testing, and Other Considerations

Districts are currently considering a variety of options, such as a longer summer school period, a longer school year, opening school with staggered start times, extending the school day, and reducing the number of students per classroom. Scheduling systems will need to accommodate all these potential scenarios.

Since states have cancelled their testing for the year, there must be testing mechanisms put into place to determine grade-level placement for new students and existing students how have not been participating in remote learning. Students may have to be tested at home. IT, Operations, and Academics should be working with their vendors to ensure the systems are prepared to handle their unique requirements. If this does not occur, there may be a need for IT and schools to run several scheduling scenarios, and assessment centers may have to be established prior to student placement. Students, parents, and teachers must have scheduled prior to any school opening; otherwise, even more instructional time may be missed.

Enrollment Implications

With so many families losing jobs, many will be forced to move, and building capacity assumptions will be impacted. This could result in the need to examine closing schools or redrawing boundaries in order to meet social distancing and class size requirements. This is another reason that developing scheduling scenarios should begin as soon as possible. Using a geovisual analytics software tool, like GuideK12, to quickly draw new boundaries, while maintaining equity for all students, is an efficient tool that provides critical decision support and transparency at a difficult time. Now more than ever, during this time of crisis, there are many situations where the ability to effectively map students to their household and analyze their individual needs is imperative.

Maintaining Operations Remotely

IT will have to go to a remote maintenance plan. My experience with 1:1 computing is that 5-10% of devices will be lost or damaged. That number may rise in this new setting. Procurement and IT should work with vendors to make sure that there are enough parts to repair broken screens and keyboards. There should be an inventory of computers that can be provided to students for hot swaps. The proximity of these "technology depots" should be based on the number and location of broken devices. GuideK12 can provide the addresses of these incidents, and temporary depots can be established for hot swaps so that families do not have to travel far or wait for the device to be repaired.

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Storm Shelter Considerations

When a storm approaches, schools are often designated as shelters and prepared beforehand. If social distancing is still mandated, more shelters will be needed to accommodate the community. New shelters can be added to the GuideK12 SchoolSearch tool so that community members can look up their new shelter locations (Shelter Search).

Informing Decision Making

Anticipating what administrators will need in order to make informed decisions is especially critical. IT will need to ensure that the appropriate data is being collected and is accessible to administrators in a format that is usable. Device, WI-FI, student performance, and other data will likely be stored in disparate systems. If a consolidated reporting system is not currently in place, IT will need to begin building that system. Software solutions like Forecast5's 5Lab make it easy to combine disparate datasets into a single desktop for analysis and reporting. 5Lab presents information in easy-to-understand, customizable visual dashboards, which administrators can use to guide their decision making.

As none of us have gone through anything like COVID-19 in our lifetimes, we are all learning and making mistakes, while at the same time improving our processes and methods. Forecast 5's GuideK12 geovisual analytics and 5Lab analytics solution are tools that can augment your current IT systems, enabling you and your administrators to make faster, more informed decisions and adapt to changes as they are occurring.

Fore more information about GuideK12 or 5Lab, please reach out to Forecast5.  


Debbie Karcher served for more than 16 years as CIO for Miami-Dade County Public schools, the fourth-largest school district in the country, where she managed information technology operations, led development of the district's technology strategic vision, and guided long-range planning. Currently a K12 Education Technology Advisor for Executive Management, she is an accomplished, creative executive and author of the 2012 book, "An ERP Success Story within Miami Dade County Public Schools".

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