Blueprints for security and much more:

E-Rate, the Universal Service Fund-sponsored program (also based on the school lunch program), provides much-needed support for cash-strapped schools, school districts and libraries in the form of providing cash-back discounts for eligible technology purchases.

Once E-Rate hit the street, federal and state mandates came into play, and schools were in a position of having to formally get their thoughts, ideas, wants, needs and predictions down on paper and create a technology plan or roadmap.

While many schools scrambled at first, they eventually found their way. Most did so out of sheer necessity as federal and state funding was on the line. Without formalized and submitted plans, schools were essentially cutting off their own funding, so making sure that they followed suit was of the utmost importance.

According to Larry Anderson, founder and director, National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP) in Tupelo, Miss., “Before formalized plans, schools had informal technology plans, which basically were ideas that questioned whether something was a good thing to do. Back when microcomputers became affordable, school administrators did not really know all that much about technology/computers, so they just bought things based on sales presentations or what they saw at conferences.”

Written plan required
But then the Council for Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., stated that schools needed to have written plans, and it issued a position paper that encouraged states to develop written technology plans. Naturally, these measures’ adoption was slow and confusing. But, the move brought the concept of written technology planning to the national scene.

Anderson said that with today’s technology planning, most schools can access online tools through their home state’s Department of Education Web site and start things rolling from there. One slight problem with the current method is that these online forms are merely question-and-answer sessions that do not delve deep enough into what schools want and need in terms of technology. Anderson continues to devote time to making sure that schools stay ahead of the technology curve by understanding the importance of proper planning.

“A goal not written down is just a wish,” Anderson said. This is a common plight of most schools; their technology plans are wishes because of stringent budgetary constraints and bureaucratic expectations.

Anderson and the NCTP have created a comprehensive blueprint called the “Guidebook for Developing an Effective Technology Plan.” Anderson noted that things such as security in terms of personnel, data and facilities should also be included within the technology plan. Also of recent interest has been the inclusion of things such as disaster recovery planning.

Disaster recovery is crucial
That added element is one that plays an important role in integrated facilities. Security systems, access control, voice and data communications, networking, and fire and life safety systems are all integral parts of today’s schools, making them quite similar to their corporate counterparts, but schools are in the unique and challenging position of not only educating but protecting youth. By planning technology allocations outright, schools could essentially help their students in terms of technology education and with using technology as an aide to education. In addition, the schools can use that knowledge to further protect their facilities.

Anderson, who is one of the nation’s strongest proponents and advocates of technology planning, summed it up best by saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. No sensible person would build a house without consulting others experienced in successful house construction, then developing a blueprint and detailed sets of plans. When we focus upon the purpose of our planning, the process becomes fun and exhilarating.”       •

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached via e-mail at JenLeahS@msn.com.