This month, fulfilling a pledge made by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration in November 2007, the District’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Vivek Kundra, announced completion of a project to provide personal computers (PCs) to all District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) classrooms.
This $4 million initiative was aimed at equipping every classroom teacher and administrator with a secure and reliable desktop computer. The District’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), under the direction of CTO Kundra, negotiated a discounted price of $628 per PC to purchase the computers. OCTO’s IT ServUs PC support program then deployed teams of technicians to crisscross the city, installing the PCs and linking them to the District’s 35,000-user email and Internet access network, as well as OCTO’s round-the-clock IT ServUs PC Helpdesk.
The OCTO PC project revived and fast-tracked a project planned but never executed by the former DCPS administration before Mayor Fenty’s schools takeover last year. In September 2007 DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and CTO Kundra signed an agreement for OCTO to take over DCPS information technology functions. The former DCPS administration had planned the PC project to take a year, but Mayor Fenty, Chancellor Rhee, and CTO Kundra determined that the need for PCs in the classrooms was urgent, and the project should be completed in just eight weeks. Using OCTO’s Geographic Information Systems technology to chart the most efficient routes around the city, OCTO’s IT ServUs team beat the eight-week timetable by one week, starting the project on November 26, 2007 and completing the installations on January 8, 2008.
“This project lays the foundation for using technology to improve public education in the District,” said CTO Kundra. “We must use the Internet and other technology resources to empower our teachers to make learning more exciting and help our students prepare to compete in the global economy.”
The OCTO teams installed a total of about 5900 PCs, about 70% for teachers in DCPS classrooms, 25% for administrative personnel, and 5% for use by custodians, cafeteria workers, and long-term DCPS volunteers. About 500 PCs remaining from OCTO’s bulk purchase will be reserved for various uses, including the District’s four new high tech campuses, additional cafeteria use, and spares for later replacements as needed.
The PCs will serve as classroom teaching tools and will also provide teachers with a variety of resources that few DCPS teachers had before. Now teachers can access a central database of student records and create and maintain grade and attendance records electronically. They can also access the District’s email system and use it to share ideas and information with their colleagues, principals, administrative personnel, and parents. Teachers can now use the Internet to identify and download teaching tools and resources for their students.
“This initiative is critical to driving student achievement forward in the District. Our schools have gone too long without having access to the technology they need to compete,” Chancellor Rhee said. “Among other benefits, I look forward to increasing central office capacity to communicate with all of our teachers and students.”
Before the OCTO project, some teachers and administrators had PCs—but an OCTO analysis found them riddled with viruses, and some teachers said they had been waiting months for simple PC problems to be fixed. The new DCPS PCs are equipped with powerful anti-virus protection. When problems surface, teachers can call the IT ServUs Helpdesk, get a ticket number for tracking, and have the problem resolved within a few minutes, or at most a few hours.
“Customer service is the heart of our program,” said OCTO IT ServUs Director Aki Damme. “Nothing is more gratifying than knowing we can help thousands of teachers teach more effectively and give students all over the District a more vibrant, up-to-date environment for learning.”