ICSD keeps kids learning through COVID

Keeping up with the technology needs of teachers and students is no easy feat for any school district, even under ideal conditions. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and chaos would be easy to imagine.

Fortunately, chaos has been kept mostly at bay around the country – and right here in our community – through hard work, talent, and flexibility in the face of trying times. It’s a team effort, with teachers, support staff, parents, and students all working together to adapt to new conditions that seem to change every week.

New needs, new ways of doing things

The Indianola Consolidated School District (ICSD) serves approximately 3,600 students in grades PK-12, spread over four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The district employs nearly 300 certified personnel and an additional 230 support staff. And now everyone needs Internet service and access to a computer, both at school and at home. It’s no small puzzle to solve.

Ray Coffey, ICSD’s IT Director, has been on the front lines. “As a district, we’ve always been relatively tech-driven,” Ray shares. “But this really opened our eyes to not only what can be done, but also everything that has to be done to make it happen.”

Before the pandemic, elementary students didn’t have Chromebooks to take home, but now those who need them can check them out for remote learning. The district is exploring the possibility of providing every elementary student a device – Chromebooks for the older kids, iPads for the youngest. Currently, every middle schooler has a Chromebook and high schoolers have MacBook Airs.

Teleconferencing used to be for board meetings, but now Zoom also means “classroom.” In Indianola, teachers use it daily to reach students learning from home even when class is held live. The district has also been using Zoom for parent-teacher conferences. “In some ways it’s easier,” says Ray, “because it’s way less hectic for both teachers and parents. We’re asking ourselves if we should continue keeping them online in the future.”

More bandwidth, more support

Over 2,000 ICSD students are logged in all day, every day, with their district device. If the district moves forward with providing each elementary student a device, that number will climb over 3,600.” Needless to say, fast and reliable Internet service is a must. Ray volunteers that IMU has been a good partner for the district, providing both connectivity and the fiber that enables it. “For many years we’ve leased fiber from IMU that connects our buildings. This year, we signed on with IMU for a high-speed Internet connection and we’ve been very happy with that decision.  As always, they’ve done a great job for us.”

But not everyone has access to IMU’s fiber network. In some rural areas where it’s not available, the district provides students with mobile hotspots. That’s been a lifesaver for some, but all these new technologies come with a learning curve.

According to Ray, the amount of support the district has been asked to provide this year has been exponential to any other. “We’re supporting parents now as they help their kids, troubleshooting devices, hotspots, login issues, whatever.” The rise in need has prompted the district to implement a support portal where parents can submit tickets online or call a help desk number during business hours.

The district now has a dedicated technology integration coach, Ali Sauter, who’s been in high demand this year. She mostly works with staff to help them get the training and resources they need to be successful. Recently, Ali won the Indianola Chamber’s Educator of the Year award. The hope is to add at least one more coach in the future.

A silver lining?

“Planning” has almost become a punchline these days, and it’s no different for Ray’s team at ICSD.

“For our department, there’s been a lot of trying to plan for what might come in the future,” Ray says. “What can we try to stay ahead of?”

He points to the prep required for the students to come back into the classroom full time. For the month leading up to February 15, they tested cameras, mics, and equipment that will integrate with the classrooms’ interactive touch screens, plus everything to allow students to Zoom into the classroom.

There may be a silver lining in all of this. After all, necessity is the mother of invention – and adaptation. “It’s been a brand-new experience for students and teachers,” says Ray. “I think everyone has a newfound recognition of how important tech is and how it can be utilized in education.”