Customer Highlight: Blue Valley School District
We have a fantastic community of customers here at Techcycle Solutions, and we want to highlight them and share their stories as we continue to grow. Recently, we were able to sit down with one of our biggest customers and learn a little bit more about their organization and how they actually thrived in this past year. Kent Corser, Director of Technology Operations for Blue Valley School District, shares the good, the bad, the ugly and the amazing. But first, a little insight as to who Blue Valley is and how they impact the local area.
Background of Blue Valley School District
“Blue Valley School District is located in Overland Park, Kansas. We’ve were a school district unified in 1965. We cover 91 square miles… we have 42 buildings, 37 of which are schools. Those buildings support 3,000 staff and 23,000 students between our early childhood all the way up to 12th grade. We have 21 elementary schools, nine middle schools and five high schools currently with more on the way.”
Blue Valley Schools focus on academic achievement – they are currently one of the highest rated school districts in the state of Kansas. Not only do they focus on academics, but they also focus on life skills and preparing all of their students for that next chapter. They truly do live by their motto “Reimagining Learning and Changing the World”.
“If you enter Blue Valley, yes, we’re gonna get you ready for that next phase academically. But we want you to be ready for the next phase of life as well.”
Kent has been in his current role at Blue Valley for the past five years and has loved every second of it – COVID and all. He shared a bit more on his professional background:
“I started in education with my first job out of school. I was a technology technician for a school district called Schaumburg out of Chicago and worked there for a couple of years… and then I was called to go work in corporate America and so I shifted – quite a big shift, going from K-12 to corporate. There, I started as technology support person for the headquarters of this company and then moved my way up into a manager position there where I oversaw the technicians and worked there for six years.”
He and his wife were both originally from the Kansas City area, and after having a couple of kids they decided to make the move back to the midwest. He found an opportunity working at Ottawa University in their technology department for several years. Then, the Blue Valley opportunity arose and it was something he couldn’t pass up.
“Being able to work for a school district that covers so much, that’s an awesome responsibility and it’s something that I take very seriously. I knew that if I could leverage and put together a team to accomplish some pretty amazing things, then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Blue Valley Tech Team
We talked about the technical team Kent has been part of and helped to create at Blue Valley which is something he is very passionate about. “My team has the unique opportunity to deploy stuff, of course, that’s fun, right? You can see their faces when a device does have an issue or is broken and when we replace that, like that joy of – ‘Okay, I’m back!'”
Kent goes on to talk about the back-end part of their jobs that the end-users don’t see, which is oftentimes the most crucial and important part to maintaining a safe and secure infrastructure. He believes in aptitude, as well as attitude with the culture of his team being at the center of everything. “That’s what I tell everyone on our team – culture is a very important part of what we do and a big part of that culture is the commitment to customer service and taking on that challenge and that responsibility is something that you have to have it within you to tackle something this big as what we have here. Everyone that works here has that, and so that’s what makes the engine run.”
Create – “We want every issue to have a ticket created.”
Asses – “So when that ticket comes in, we assess that to find out more information.”
Resolve – “We’re gonna resolve it. And if we can’t resolve it, then it goes to E…”
Escalate – “We escalate to a vendor or we escalate it internally to a different department.”
BV CARE is the badge that Kent’s team operates under. They follow this – to a T – without skipping steps or procedures, and this is a HUGE part of their customer-first culture. Kent also talks about the “Four C’s” on his team – Customer Service, Communication, Commitment, Culture:
“It starts with customer service first and foremost, and one of the best ways to offer great customer service is through unparalleled communication. Communication drives everything that we do, whether it’s verbal or written in a ticket. Whatever it is, transparent communication is absolutely paramount. And you have to be committed. It can be very easy when thousands of tickets come in and there’s a couple you want to throw over your shoulder like ‘someone else is gonna worry about that one’. But we have a team that is committed to making sure that we’re treating every ticket, whether large or small, with the same commitment and drive to do the right thing. And then the fourth C, which covers all of that – is culture.”
Blue Valley Tech is a massive team that services a massive amount of people, and they do so like a well-oiled machine. Kent dove into what technology has looked like in the past within Blue Valley Schools, as well as what it looks like today. “Oh, my gosh, I mean, technology has shifted so much and so fast. What used to be a very manual process, now there’s so much automation and work flows.” He goes on to highlight the fact that their classrooms used to be filled with what he calls “fixed technology” like a projector on the wall or the old pull-down screens. That has since changed drastically and they have moved towards a more flexible and adaptable learning environment.
“Because learning should happen anywhere, right?”
Their classrooms also change year to year – a second grade classroom one year could be a fourth grade classroom with a different teacher the next year. They have also seen a big push to the Cloud by storing all their data on there versus the traditional servers or data centers. That has been key, especially with kids taking technology home with them overnight now. There have been transformational changes with their device carts as well: “I remember going into some of our elementary buildings (in 2015) and watching two or three students have to wheel a cart from one class to another because everything was shared and there wasn’t a 1:1 device ratio. Here you have this big bulky cart – like a tank – but probably only held 15 devices. And now we have these carts that are 1/4 of that size that can hold 30 devices.”
Outside of the devices themselves that have changed, so have the platforms on which they run. Many school districts, Blue Valley included, used to run on one standardized platform. Fortunately, Blue Valley knew that wasn’t how the real world was going to work. So now, in order to better prepare their students they have become “operating system agnostic”. You can walk into a classroom and see Chromebooks next to Macs next to Windows (not the kind on the wall). “Talk about life readiness – getting our students ready for a career where you’re gonna walk into environments that have any one of those device types.”
Obviously, this pandemic has affected A LOT of things across the world. Technology might just be the biggest tool utilized to overcome the obstacles COVID brought. Throw that into a school system that has not changed much in the past 50+ years, and you can actually come out the other side with some positive changes. Kent first talked about their current strategic planning within technology and how they would typically plan 6 months to a year out. COVID flipped those plans upside down and threw them in the trash.
Surprisingly, shifting the students to learn remotely wasn’t the biggest challenge – the staff was. With the staff members being used to working in their offices with their desktops – then suddenly they need VPN connections and home internet and routers and lions and tigers and bears – OH MY! Let’s just say there were a lot of growing and changing pains for the staff that went along with it.
Kent goes on to talk about the change in not having his first line of defense when it comes to IT questions. Teachers, administrators, librarians, technology integration specialists, instructional design coaches – “those folks are kind of a shield to answering a lot of questions before they ever get to IT. Now imagine when that shield is gone because no one’s at school.” They had to think quickly on how to centralize these requests coming in and react fast to the changing environment, with the same high academic expectations in mind. This took a lot of training and growth for his own team and their ability to help.
“When something like COVID hits, you are very reactionary – you can’t be strategic longer than 48 hours. And when you’re conditioned to strategically thinking and then you’re you’re thrown into this environment of being reactive, it’s uncomfortable. Yet even in our uncomfortableness, we were strategic in just much smaller timeframes.”
Not to mention their Kindergarten through second graders were on a 1:2 model, meaning ONE device was shared between TWO students. That doesn’t work when all those students now have to learn from their separate homes. “That was a big change and we needed to get out another 4000 iPads”. With manufacturing way behind across the board, Blue Valley was lucky to put their orders in early and get those devices in and deployed in time.
With the future still uncertain as it relates to learning from home or in the classroom, they have had to come up with several “if this, then that” plans. “So for the first time ever, we’ve had to be very quick on our feet to have a support model that can accomplish any one of those. And we’re still navigating that, but we’re so much better off now than we were when we started.”
One underlying theme I have noticed in businesses and organizations across the board is that teams today are so much better and well-equipped to handle whatever is thrown at them than they were back in January. Kent feels this is definitely the case not only with his team, but also with the teachers and staff at Blue Valley. “There are teachers who, if they were not comfortable with Zoom prior to this – well they are Zoom masters now.”
They are also utilizing their learning management system, Canvas, to it’s fullest extent now compared to how they were using it pre-pandemic. “There’s so many more bells and whistles being used and much faster because of this.” The same goes on the support side with Kent’s team as well. Rather than being able to work hands on and face-to-face with the end-user who’s having issues, they have now had to overcome the obstacles with supporting remotely. “That’s been a great challenge on our side, but again helps us along the way, too. And now we know that we can obviously be nimble.”
Although it’s easier to focus on the next 5-10 days right now, Kent shared with us what the future of Blue Valley looks like in the next 5-10 years. While they are already big, they have a lot of growth coming and it all stems to support their pillars of academic achievement and social / emotional learning. “There’s already a new elementary school being unearthed. There is another middle school that will definitely be here by the next 5 to 10 years and potentially another high school.”
The Technology Department has to be ready for that growth as well. New buildings means new technology. “When we open up a new building we are always telling ourselves ‘we don’t want it to be exactly what we did before’, because the needs have changed from that old design. What is the new thing that’s going to carry us forward for the next several years? It’s like looking into the future. And yes, you’re making some huge but sound assumptions about what that might look like. We’ve built a model that whenever it shows itself as the new thing, we’re gonna be able to move and adapt to that, and that’s what super cool.”
How TCS Helps
It truly is a humbling feeling just to know that we here at TCS help in small ways to make their mission possible. All while ensuring their staff, teachers and students can keep life moving in the middle of a global pandemic and quite possibly the biggest educational shift in the past 50+ years. We are grateful to be able to work with such an amazing team as BV CARE. Kent shared with us how our services make an impact:
“I have been tasked this year with with ensuring, especially in this environment, you don’t go days without a device. If you get behind on virtual education and you don’t have a device to help facilitate that or even an extra device at home, then we need to be ready to get you that device fixed. So we have a great plan in place to facilitate that. But the back end of that is ensuring that, working with you guys, we have an amazing program where you guys come pick them up, they get serviced, and then get returned on a weekly basis – has been phenomenal. Because I’ve got to make sure I have inventory ready to go for any moments notice. So yeah, you guys are very much a big part of our success.”
Special thanks to Kent from Blue Valley for taking the time to connect with us and share his Blue Valley story!
All the best,
Check out our other blogs on working from home, the weather in Kansas, and the top 10 holiday gifts you didn’t know you wanted!