New Director of Technology

At the end of June, I’ll be stepping away from my role as Director of Technology and Communications for the ADM Schools.  That said, I’m excited to welcome Jason Deal as my replacement.  Jason has worked in the educational technology and information technology fields for two decades, including ten years of experience as Director of Technology for the Carlisle Community School District.

Jason and I have worked together for years, and he will be able to seamlessly step into this role and continue to build our momentum in terms of our upcoming 1:1 initiative, technology integration efforts, infrastructure and classroom technology improvements, and expansion of communications offerings.  Jason will bring fresh ideas and new strengths to these initiatives, and will continue to push ADM to be an educational technology leader in the state.

My family and I are moving to Iowa City, where I’ve accepted the position of Director of Technology and Innovation for the Iowa City Community School District.  This position brings new challenges, and I’m tremendously excited for the opportunity, but I also look forward to continuing to do whatever I can to support the ADM Schools community.


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Next Generation Technology Plan

The ADM School District’s Next Generation Technology committee has released its recommendations for district technology during the final six years of the current voter-approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL).  This 13-member committee includes district teachers, administrators, parents, a board member, and a student.  If these recommendations are adopted, most of the implementation described below would be in place for the 2017-18 school year.

Identified needs include:

  • Additional student-accessible devices, due to a high rate of usage
  • Technology integration support
  • Home access
  • Appropriate software
  • Classroom technology enhancements

Some of the highlights of the recommendations include:

  • a 1:1 student-to-device ratio in at least grades 3-12, with ongoing consideration for the ideal ratio (certainly an increase of devices, though) in preschool through second grade
  • creation of (a) technology integration specialist position(s)
  • Chromebooks in grades 3-12, iPad mini devices in grades preschool – 2
  • Citrix application and/or desktop virtualization to support delivery of full applications to Chromebooks
  • additional classroom technologies, including – potentially – voice lift technology, recording equipment and software, multiple displays, and maker space technology
  • wireless upgrades at DeSoto Intermediate and Adel Elementary

For full details, check out the documents below:

NGT Recommendations Presentation

NGT Recommendations

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Redundant Internet Connection

It has been a long time since I’ve added a post to the ADM Technology blog. It’s not that there has been nothing for me to write about, but rather that it has been busy behind the scenes and there has not been time to write about what has been going on. Much of what goes on in the background in a technology department tends to be low visibility but high impact. This post is about something which should (hopefully!) be almost completely invisible but also provide significant benefit to the staff and students of the ADM district.

With the increasing use of classroom technology the ability to connect to the internet has become an important part of the school experience. ADM has a reasonably fast connection, at 160Mbps. This is more than five times faster than the reported average for Iowa of ~30Mbps. Bigger is better here, and an increase in that number always correlates to a faster connection.

What isn’t always considered when discussing an internet connection is that it must be available when we need it. The fastest internet connection in the world is of little benefit if something goes wrong with it. With many classroom devices and learning software applications offering extensive online functionality the loss of the ability to go online can adversely affect the classroom experience, even if it’s just for a short while. For this reason ADM has implemented a secondary internet connection. Most of the time this does next to nothing, but it provides an important safety net should something happen to our main internet link. It’s like a spare set of house keys. The best scenario is that you don’t need to use them, but should you ever find them necessary you’re very glad you’ve got access to them.

The good news is that our primary internet connection is very reliable. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect though. Late last year we suffered a loss of internet access as a consequence of an attempt to knock out the internet connection of another school district in Central Iowa. In circumstances such as that, or others (eg, if physical cables between our building and the rest of the world got damaged) where we have no direct ability to resolve the problem, then this secondary link comes to the rescue. I touched on the possibility of damaged cables being a potential risk to our internet connection. Because of this possibility our secondary connection comes into the district at our admin building on N. 11th Street (our primary link goes to the middle school/high school campus on Nile Kinnick Drive) so that a hypothetical careless backhoe operator could only break one of the two links.

Our secondary link is very slow in comparison to our primary connection. It is 20Mbps, which is only 1/8 of the speed that our main link offers. It’s not intended to be a full replacement, just a means of ensuring a good level of continuity while the main connection isn’t working properly.

On a technical level the work is handled by our internet facing firewall. This device protects our devices from the nasty things that lurk on the internet. It is set up so that it monitors our primary internet link and if it can’t communicate with the outside world for more than a couple of seconds then it moves to the secondary link. The primary link is monitored and once communication is restored then it is used again. The secondary link is also monitored to make sure we don’t just try to use another broken connection. On our firewall this is known as Policy Based Forwarding, but it goes by other names.



The changeover process is almost entirely transparent to the end user. What they might notice is a short period of time where it seems like a website isn’t working. This is for approximately two seconds. It seems like nothing, until you actually experience it. On a fixed link data connection, websites will usually respond within 1/500 of a second and the delay beyond that time is surprisingly noticeable. Anyone who has used a satellite internet connection will understand this, but for people who’ve only experienced fast internet you won’t know until it happens. Most people will notice nothing at all. The switch back once things are working again is entirely invisible to the end user.

One of our design considerations when implementing this is that sometimes an internet connection can be working just well enough for you to tell that it’s not working. A situation like this presents a problem as automatic monitoring tends to rely on tests which might not be able to detect that sort of scenario, and thus we could still have no usable internet. For this reason we implemented the ability to manually break our primary internet connection. This can be accomplished in one of two ways.

  1. Technology department staff can remotely do this by making a change to one of network switches. For the geek minded, we use HP switches and the command to do this is: int x disable (where x is the port number our connection runs through.) The corresponding command to fix it is: int x enable
  2. A responsible staff member can disconnect a distinctively coloured, and clearly labelled, cable.

Both of these require manual interaction. The firewall cannot determine whether the primary connection is working again with the connection being physically disabled. It’s a nuisance but these options offer us an extra level of protection which is the goal of this functionality.

While there are absolutely no downsides to having this enabled (when things are fine, they’re as fine as they ever were) there are trade offs when this functionality is active. First, and most obviously, is that things will be slower. During the periods of time that the primary connection is out of service people from the outside world cannot access our public facing websites. Lastly, our public wifi network loses its internet access. All these were design considerations, but the cost to benefit ratio for changing these wasn’t sufficient to justify the expense of making it work. The expected need for the secondary internet link is very low, so for the short durations of it being in use those trade offs were determined to be appropriate. All those down sides vanish the moment the main internet link is working again.

At the end of the day this is something that the vast majority of users won’t even notice. But that is entirely the point. One of the goals of the ADM Technology Department is to continually improve on what we do, and this is a very good example of that methodology at work.


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Upcoming Moodle Training Opportunity

In order to support teachers’ use of Moodle – an online learning management system being implemented in the high school and middle school – Robin West and I will be offering an eClassroom for Teachers course this summer!  You can register for the course or get a full course description here: Register for eClassroom for Teachers

Can I get credit?

This course will be available for two license renewal or graduate credits, or can be taken at no charge for no credit.

When will the class be offered? 

We’ll have four class meetings during the summer: June 9th and 10th, and August 8th and 9th.  The class is scheduled to meet starting at 8:30 AM each of those days, and will meet for the full day.  If you can’t make it to all of these meetings but are still interested in the course, get in touch with me and we can discuss potential alternatives.

What topics will be covered? 

As mentioned, the course is focused on Moodle, and is appropriate for Moodle novices as well as those of you who have extensive experience.  Topics covered include, but are not limited, to:

  • Course Creation
  • Enrollments
  • Layout/Topic Administration
  • File/Media Management
  • Activities & Resources
  • File Repositories
  • Page Creation
  • Grouping / Group Activities
  • Interactive Activities
  • Database Activities
  • Multi-Page Lessons
  • Wikis
  • Assignments / Assignment Types
  • Gradebook Overview / Setup
  • Online Assessments
  • Assessment Security
  • Using eClassroom Inside & Outside the Classroom

The course is activity-based, so everything that you do should be work that you can directly apply to your own courses next year.  The course will culminate in development and presentation of a full course site for one (or more) of your courses for the coming school year.


Who should take this class? 

While Moodle is being implemented directly at the middle school and high school, teachers from all grade levels who are interested in an online platform for communication with students (or, to a more limited extent, parents) are welcome to take the course.  Heck, if you’re just interested in learning a new skill and getting some license or graduate credits, you’re welcome to join us.

You do not need any prior background with Moodle to enroll, but we will be employing a project-based, collaborative approach that should allow more experienced Moodle users to benefit from even the first few introductory sections.

Meeting all day?  During the summer?!? That sounds like a drag …

We’re going to have a lot of fun in this course, and the all-day meeting format will help to facilitate collaboration and relationship building that can be a hallmark of effective PD.  Plus, we’ll have lots of breaks.  And a big lunch break.  And snacks.

Will this directly impact my teaching? 

Yes!  The goal is that everything you create in this class will be geared towards your own courses and instructional context.  When we complete a quiz creation activity, you’ll be creating an online assessment that you can actually use.  The end goal of the course is to create and present a fully-functioning Moodle site for one or more of your classes, complete with collaborative features, online resources, integrated media, assessments, the works.

What are the costs for credit? 

  • License Renewal Credit: $25/credit hour ($50 total)
  • Graduate Credit: $200/credit hour ($400 total)
  • No Credit: FREE!

More questions? 

Please contact Adam Kurth with any additional questions about the course.  I look forward to seeing a lot of you this summer!


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Price Lists for ADM Innovates Proposals

As mentioned in a previous post, the ADM Innovates internal grant program application is live and applications will be accepted until March 27th.  Along those lines, I’ve already received a number of questions about pricing for certain items.  While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all hardware that could be purchased with grant funding, it may be helpful to some of you in crafting your grant applications:

All prices updated 2/25/2016


  • iPad mini 16GB w/ cover ($279)
  • iPad mini 32GB w/ cover ($319)
  • iPad mini 4 64GB w/ cover ($479)
  • iPad Air 16GB w/ cover ($399)
  • iPad Air 32GB w/ cover ($449)
  • iPad Air 2 16GB w/ cover ($499)
  • iPad Air 2 64GB w/ cover ($599)
  • iPad Pro 32GB ($779)


  • 11-inch MacBook Air ($1,049)
  • 13-inch MacBook Air ($1,149)


  • 21.5″ iMac ($1,229)
  • 27″ 5K iMac ($1,879)

Windows Convertible Laptops/Tablets

  • 12.3″ Microsoft Surface Pro 4 w/ Type Cover ($995)
  • 12.5″ Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga w/ Pen Input ($811)

Windows Laptops (non-convertible)

  • 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad E450 ($610)
  • 15.6″ Lenovo ThinkPad E560 ($729)


  • 11″ Lenovo N21 4GB ($170)
  • 14″ HP Chromebook 14 4GB ($280)
  • 15″ Acer Chromebook 15 4GB ($380)

Chrome Desktops

  • Asus Chromebox 4GB ($200)
  • 21.5″ Acer Chromebase ($300)
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ADM Hosting Regional Technology Directors

ADM will host the Heartland Area Education Agency’s (AEA) district technology directors meeting on Friday, February 26th in our new professional development room within the district’s administrative center.

These meetings provide area technology directors with a chance to learn about other districts’ initiatives, successes, and challenges, and to gain access to training and informational resources regarding technology and funding issues that affect multiple districts.  Hosting these meetings provides a chance to highlight some of the things that we’re doing here at ADM.

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ADM Innovates Internal Grant Applications are Live

The ADM Innovates internal technology grant program is now live for the 2016-17 school year.  All ADM teachers are eligible to apply (as individuals or as groups) for project funding for any amount up to $5,000.  This year, $7,500 will be available to fund grant requests district-wide.

For more information about the program, check out the detailed program description.

Click here to apply for 2016-17 funding; as a reminder, this program is only open to teachers with the ADM Schools.

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Data Center Relocation

The ADM Schools administrative offices – including technology department offices – moved to a newly-renovated facility at 215 North 11th Street in Adel in January of 2016.  In advance of the move, we in the technology department were busy getting the new facility wired, so to speak, with wireless and wired networks, integrated technologies such as projectors, digital signage, and network access to our other buildings.

Data Center (2)

Our yet-to-be-completed data racks in our data center.

Even more of a challenge, though, was the relocation of the bulk of our district data center, which was previously located in our technology offices within ADM High School.  While part of the motivation for relocating the data center was to keep our servers and other network equipment in close proximity to technology staff, the bigger motivation was to be able to return valuable classroom space to the high school.

What Moved? What Stayed?

While there are advantages to consolidating services and points of entry as completely as possible, some components of our data center and network didn’t make logistical or financial sense to move.  Since ADM serves as a regional hub for the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) – the state-owned network that provides, among other things, our district’s internet access – and the hub is located in the room adjacent to our old data center, we did not move our incoming/outgoing ICN connection.  Accordingly, we kept our district firewall in place.  Further, the switches and analog phone lines serving the high school were kept in place.

Data Center (1)

VMWare virtual server hosts and storage infrastructure

We did, however, move our virtual server infrastructure (VMWare host servers and storage), other physical servers that we still have in operation, wireless controllers, and our high-capacity battery backup.  Moving this equipment reduces the footprint in the old data center from a significant portion of the full room to a single rack, allowing us to install a locking cabinet rack in the room and return the rest of the room for classroom use.

What are the benefits of the move? 

The new data center – much more spacious than the old location – offers improvements in terms of space, security, infrastructure, and reliability.  The new data center occupies what used to be a classroom when our new administrative center was a school building.  This space allows us to consolidate our data center with our primary technology storage area, which serves to provide us quicker access to needed resources, but also allows us to take better advantage of increased security.

Data Center (3)

Some of the storage available in the new data center.

Access to the data center is controlled electronically, such that only a small number of district staff have access to the facility.  Entries to the facility are logged, and the threat of a lost key no longer poses a danger to the department’s information or physical security.  Physical access is also substantially more difficult in this facility, which has no windows or keyed door locks.  Further, the new data center has a motion sensor tied to our building’s alarm system.  Located in the basement of a 100-year old building, the new data center is also far less vulnerable to tornado damage, which is always a threat to information security for Iowa schools.  This heightened security is made even more valuable by the dual-purpose of the facility, which also includes technology storage.  The value of stored devices – especially prior to a deployment – can be significant.

This is our old data center location at ADM High School.  The remaining electronics will be consolidated into a single, lockable cabinet rack.

This is our old data center location at ADM High School. The remaining electronics will be consolidated into a single, lockable cabinet rack.

Whereas our old facility was not designed to be a data center, the new area includes dedicated power that is designed to handle the power needs of our electronic equipment.  Further, the room has integrated air conditioning, along with a temperature monitor that alerts the director of buildings and grounds if the temperature in the room exceeds a set level.

Finally, the new data center provides us with better network reliability.  In order to serve the data needs of the department prior to the expansion of our fiber network and the full data center transition, the data center was served by its own internet connection.  Now, that internet connection is configured to act as a backup in the event that our district’s primary internet connection should go down.  While the bandwidth available is far less than through our ICN connection at the high school, it is sufficient to keep internet access operational until the ICN connection is restored.

What remains to be done? 

We will be consolidating district fax services – previously handled by analog connections to fax machines in each building – in the data center, with analog fax lines routed through a fax server for digital receipt and delivery of messages.  Further, expansion of our virtual server infrastructure will allow us to offer virtualized application delivery district-wide, and may also combine with additional storage to support a security camera implementation throughout the district.

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What are Chromebooks?

Chromebook 02-16-16 (6)Chromebooks have become ubiquitous in the education sector, but I’m often met with confusion when I mention a Chromebook to somebody outside of the school setting.  Here at ADM, we’ve deployed almost 300 Chromebooks over the past few years, with most of those deployments in the form of mobile carts in grades 3-12.  Here’s a quick Chromebook overview:

What is a Chromebook?

Chromebook 02-16-16 (2)Simply put, a Chromebook is a laptop.  The form factor (in picture at right) is that of a traditional laptop, with a keyboard, screen, USB ports, and so forth.  Unlike other laptops that run Windows or OS X as operating systems, Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a cloud-based operating system that integrates with Google’s online services (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.).  Users can sign on to a Chromebook using any Google account, which includes all of our and accounts for staff and students.  Since storage and settings are in the cloud, anything that a user does on one Chromebook is available when they log in to a different Chromebook.

How is Chrome OS different?

Unlike a Windows or Mac computer, where the traditional paradigm is to have software installed directly on the device itself (think Microsoft Word, GarageBand, or Photoshop), Chromebooks are geared towards web-based applications and content.  Just about anything that you can do online can be done on a Chromebook.  Recent research shows that over 90% of current high school students’ computer use takes place within a web browser, which makes Chromebooks a potentially perfect fit for modern computer usage patterns.

So a Chromebook can’t run regular software? 

Yes and no.  You cannot install Windows or Mac versions of software directly on a Chromebook, but you can run online versions of the software.  Office 365, Google Drive, YouTube, Photoshop Online, and WeVideo, for instance, offer online equivalents to traditional desktop software.  Chrome OS does support a number of apps, such as Evernote, Gmail offline, calculator,, and PDF Viewer that are installed to the device and will work whether the Chromebook is connected to the internet or not.

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

Beyond those options, ADM is also piloting Citrix XenApp, which allows full Windows versions of software – including resource-intensive software such as Autodesk Innovator (pictured at right, from a Chromebook) – to be made available to Chromebooks.  The software itself is delivered virtually to the Chromebook while running on a server.  This provides the benefit of running full version, specialty software on Chromebooks, while also delivering substantially better performance for resource-intensive applications than could be achieved on most regular laptops.  The latter benefit is the result of running the application on a server that is far more powerful than any affordable laptop.

Does a Chromebook need to have an internet connection to work?  

Signal-to-noise ratioNo, although an internet connection is important for maximizing the benefit of the Chromebook.  You can still create and edit files, view pictures, take notes, and other functions without an internet connection, but you wouldn’t have access to virtualized applications, your full Google Drive directory, or to other internet resources.

Here at ADM, all buildings in the districts have wireless coverage throughout.  Efforts are underway to extend coverage to outdoor areas within the district.

What does a Chromebook cost? 

As a general rule, schools don’t have the financial resources to pay for extravagant technology offerings.  The price of Chromebooks – about $200 – $300 per device – is one of the primary factors driving their adoption in schools.  By comparison, an iPad typically costs around $400, and a Windows or Mac laptop/desktop around $1,000.

Are Chromebooks easy to support? 

Sometimes, the initial cost of a product can be misleading, due to substantial costs related to supporting the product in an enterprise environment.  Chromebooks, however, offer savings on both fronts.  Schools can purchase management licenses for about $25 per device, which allow the district to manage printers, access rules, and other device and user settings.  Since the devices use our Google email accounts for logins – and these accounts are linked to our on-campus Active Directory servers – technology staff do not need to manage accounts for specific users.  Further, the fact that the devices do not require software to be installed means that we can configure a new Chromebook for deployment in the amount of time it takes to join the device to the district’s wireless network, or about 3 minutes.  If a device has a problem – a corrupted operating system, for instance – we can restore the device to its original configuration in under 15 minutes.

Are the devices durable? 

We’ve had mixed experiences with regard to durability.  In general, we’ve found that the Chromebooks are no more or less durable than our other laptops.  That said, our Samsung Chromebooks (XE303C12) have had a number of problems with fragile displays and outer cases, although these have generally been caused by drops and abuse rather than simply hardware failure.  Our Lenovo Chromebooks (N21) have shown to be very durable, and with about 130 of them deployed for a year, we’ve seen almost no reliability problems.

Is a Chromebook a good choice for home, or for a college student? 

I get questions about computers for home and for students headed off to college all the time.  In short, a Chromebook is going to be somewhat limited for home and student use, especially if there is any need for specialty software (engineering, music composition, GIS, advanced video/photo editing, etc.)  That said, the majority of users just need a computer in order to browse the internet, check email, and compose an occasional document, spreadsheet, or presentation.  If you have wireless internet at home/school and you’re comfortable working with Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail, a Chromebook can be a perfect computer for home use.  Not only is it tremendously cost-effective, but it is also easier to use and to maintain than Windows or OS X computers.

If I were to buy a Chromebook, where can I get one?  

Almost all computer resellers – with the exception of the Apple and Microsoft stores – now sell Chromebooks.  You can often find good deals on Chromebooks at Best Buy and office stores, or online through or  When you choose a Chromebook, you’ll have some of the same choices that you have when purchasing any laptop: screen size, storage capacity, RAM, processor, and wireless.  Technical specifications are not as important for Chromebooks as for other computers, but I generally recommend:

  • at least an 11.5″ display, at least 1366×768 resolution
  • storage capacity isn’t generally important; most Chromebooks have SD card slots for photos from a camera
  • I recommend 4GB of RAM, but 2GB is sufficient.  4GB will result in a smoother experience for most users
  • Processor is generally unimportant; you’ll get better performance from a Chromebook with an Intel Core i3/i5 than you will from some other options (Celeron, Atom, Rockchip, Tegra, Exynos, etc.)
  • Support for wireless 802.11ac has the potential to improve streaming and web application performance

Will the district be expanding its Chromebook deployment? 

The district is currently in the process of exploring options for our Next Generation Technology deployment, the second half of our current PPEL implementation.  While this will likely include Chromebooks at some levels, the details of that committee recommendation are not yet decided upon.

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Radio Silence?

The ADM Technology blog has been a quiet place for the last few months, but rest assured that it hasn’t been a quiet time in the department.  I’ll post more detailed information in later posts, but here are some updates on what we’ve been up to:

New District Administration Center

The ADM Schools central offices – including the technology department – have moved to a new building!  Central administration, including technology and buildings & grounds, have moved to 215 North 11th Street in Adel.  This renovated facility was formerly a 6th/7th middle school, and is also the site of the original Adel High School.  We’re very excited about the professional development resources available for the district (including some fun integrated technology), and especially about our new technology digs.  We’re still moving in, and I’ll post more pictures and an in-depth update later.

Data Center Move

In addition to moving our offices to the new district administration center, we also moved our data center to the new facility.  This time-intensive process required extension of our inter-building fiber service to the new facility, construction of the new data center infrastructure, physical moves of servers, and reconfiguration of our VLAN structure to support the move.

Phones, Phones, Phones

The new administration center required an overhaul of the analog phone service to the building as well as implementation of a VoIP solution to serve the building.  Along similar lines, we also extended VoIP service at our Adel Elementary and DeSoto Intermediate sites, with some of that work still underway.

Next Generation Technology

Our next generation technology work is well underway, and I’ve spend the past couple of days organizing a visit schedule for visits to other districts to look at implemented deployment models.  An update on our committee work will be posted soon.

Web Application Development

In an effort to modernize many of our internal workflows and the registration process for families, we’ve begun to more aggressively implement internal web applications that allow for fully-digital processes.  Some of the systems developed recently include a document management system (based on SharePoint), an online application and review system for our Teacher Leadership and Compensation positions, an online kindergarten census form, and a web-based lunch ordering system.  This is exciting work that improves efficiency and saves time and money (for the district as well as for our community), and we’ve got several more digital conversions in the planning stages.

Newsletter Template Development

Work to develop a newsletter template for a professional, district-level newsletter communication has been largely completed.  Next up is the process of working on content for a first release, which is targeted for this spring.

Digital Fax Conversion

We’re working to consolidate our fax lines to one physical location (if possible; it may be two) so that we can digitize our district fax receipt/sending processes via a fax server.  While it seems like faxes should have been dead years ago, many of the organizations that the district must communicate with still require fax transmissions.  This conversion will allow us to streamline distribution of received faxes to appropriate employees, eliminate our need for physical fax machines and associated supplies, and will save time when transmitting faxes.

Security Camera System Research

One of the components included in a bond referendum that our district’s voters approved last year was security improvements district-wide, and one of the important security improvements that we’re looking to pursue is security camera installations.  The cameras would be located in common areas (hallways, gymnasiums, cafeterias, parking lots, etc.).  The technology department is currently developing an RFP for this project.

A Couple of Personal Notes

While this isn’t related to the department, my wife and I welcomed a new daughter – Nuria Lise – in September.  Keeping up with Miriam and Nuria has been a challenge for these past four months, but I think all four of us are having a blast.  In addition to the new addition to our family, I’ve wrapped up my PhD coursework at The University of Iowa, and am looking forward to comprehensive exams in February and the beginning of the dissertation process.  Suffice it to say that it’s been a busy winter in our household.

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