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Hernando Schools State of Technology

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At the School Board workshop on December 1, 2020, Supervisor of Technology and Information Services (TIS), Joseph G. Amato presented the district’s progress over the last year, as well as plans for the future where technology is concerned.  Amato credited his team with the successes of the year by saying, “This has been a really challenging year for everyone. We’ve had quite a bit to adjust to and quite a bit to adapt to, and I’m happy to say I think my team has done an outstanding job doing that.”

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in fast action by Amato and his team, who were able to put the necessary hardware and software in place to facilitate distance learning.   The district received a  $40,000 grant from Microsoft to assist with the configuration and deployment of Microsoft Teams to assist in creating Professional Development and training for area faculty and staff. To date there have been 38 Live and 4 virtual training sessions held for teachers and administration.

Before the pandemic began during the 2019-20 school year, the TIS department installed a private fiber optic network, known as “dark fiber” to all schools and related facilities in the county.  Dark fiber is fiber optic cable that is currently unused but installed to allow for future use and expansion.  Amato explained, “This has future-proofed us. Literally, in the past, if we needed to increase bandwidth or we needed to increase our speeds, it could have cost us hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, we now can increase and adapt as needed for a few thousand dollars, at any given point.”

Other upgrades were applied to the district’s network which will improve speed and performance.  “Gone are the days where things were working, but not so well, or people complaining of slowness and things not occurring or not working the way they should.”

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In the classrooms, 3,578 modern replacement desktops were purchased for all High School and Middle School testing labs and intensive reading and math classrooms, replacing obsolete twelve-year-old devices.  The new equipment cost $2,129,947.60. The presentation also showed that 2,500 student laptops were purchased for county elementary schools, but the cost was unavailable at the workshop.

Amato’s TIS department was able to quickly onboard students, staff and faculty with Microsoft Teams during the first lockdown event related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Amato reported that Teams has actually been in use for a few years, since he addressed cost concerns with Microsoft. “When talking to our Microsoft representatives, we realized we can move to a different type of licensing, save money and gain a lot more in the way of product and support.”

Additionally, a $40,000.00 grant from Microsoft was obtained to assist with the configuration and deployment of Teams and to assist in creating specific training for the District. To date there have been 38 Live and 4 virtual training sessions held for teachers and administration.

Other replacements, upgrades and additions include; decades old heavy-duty printers in operations centers used to print report cards have been replaced with modern devices, the district’s VPN (Virtual Private Network) has been upgraded to allow remote employees access to necessary systems when remote, and Parent Helpdesk and Helpline has been deployed during the pandemic to assist parents and students working from home.

Plans for the 2020-21 school year include:

— Deployment and of additional backup and disaster recovery services and devices.

— Move to cloud-based email using Microsoft Exchange, rather than an on-premises email server.

— Exploration of a move of disaster recovery and user authentication to secure Microsoft service called “Azure.”  This offsite system aims to ensure security of data and reliability of business operations in the event of a county wide disaster.

— Replacement of school-site obsolete and failing fiber connections between buildings with updated modern fiber.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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