The Sequim School District’s information technology director position has by and large been one split amongst other tasks, but now under superintendent Rob Clark it is a single, full-time position with district technology its sole focus.
That job falls to Beauregarde Young, who formerly held an equivalent position in the Chimacum School District until he joined the Sequim School District in July 2019. Young said he came in with a long list of tasks to accomplish, but as the son of a teacher and an information technology (IT) professional, he says he was passionate about IT in schools and ready to tackle the challenge.
Big picture issues, long-range vision
One of the biggest issues Young has had to deal with since coming on as the district’s IT director is overcoming two decades of department direction that he said hasn’t always moved in the right direction.
“Too often in the past there was too much focus on small batches of devices to fill a need,” Young said.
“We have tons of different devices that didn’t always work well in the first place, and they were bought at too high a price.”
Essentially, he said, there was too much emphasis put on small-picture, short-term projects without long-term vision and planning. That has left the district with technology that’s too old, too scattered and too inefficient, he said.
Young also said that he’s disappointed that so many teachers are still having to use computers and other technology that was purchased six years ago in a surplus sale from the Issaquah school district.
“That district surplussed (this technology) because it was too old and slow to keep six years ago,” he said. “And we’re still using it.”
Young said he wants to change the perspective and culture around IT in the district.
“We’ve had too much time of IT directors telling teachers and staff that they have to use certain technology,” Young said. “I don’t believe in that. I want to build things to be able to have them come to me and say ‘I want to use this’ and be able to make it work how they need it to.”
Much of the IT department’s budget had also previously been spent on outside contractors coming in to do “high level work” as Young put it, which was “tremendously expensive.” In the last year, the department has expanded from essentially a half-time director and two full-time staff to a full-time director and three other full-time staff: Scott Harmsen, Maria Seaboldt and Richard Seiler.
Seaboldt and Seiler have been with the district for several years, while Harmsen joined last year in a move that Young credits to Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Maughan. “When she was hired, she recognized quickly that IT needed more help,” he said. “One of the first things she did was hire Scott, and he helped a lot before I got here.”
For reference, Young said, the Sequim School District has about three and a half times the total number of students as the Chimacum School District did while he was there with a similarly increased number of computers and networking equipment, but before hiring Young and Harmsen had the same number of full-time IT staff that Chimacum did.
Harmsen had previously worked with Young in Chimacum, and Young said that Harmsen was the person who encouraged him to apply when the Sequim IT director job opened up.
The added staff represents a vast improvement on the department’s capability, Young said, going from being able to just barely be able to maintain things as they were to actually being able to get ahead and make meaningful changes.
“You might think that adding two more staff is a lot more expensive, but because of not having to use contractors nearly as much, it works out fairly evenly,” Young said. “Now we have four people splitting the load instead of two, basically, because the old tech director didn’t have the time to do the work … (and) it gives each of us more time to get things done.
“I’m still finding more and more things wrong than I knew about,” Young added, “but now I’m finding out about them every other day or every three days instead of every day. We’re starting to catch up and get things right.”
While Young envisions is large, proactive series of changes to improve the district’s technology base across the board, he said he’s also planning on doing it as responsibly as possible — both in terms of keeping it financially reasonable for the district and the taxpayers funding the work, and with keeping the future in mind with how things are built out.
An example of how that will work will soon be in progress at Helen Haller Elementary School, where Young is leading a proof-of-concept project security system in two of the school’s buildings.
Security in the schools has been a major concern for Sequim School Board directors in recent months, and Young said that he’s eager to show how this kind of technology can improve school security in an affordable manner.
Young said that he’s also using the Helen Haller project to enhance and upgrade the district’s core network and technology infrastructures, which will help future district IT projects.
“We could just do the work to install the security systems and leave it at that,” Young said. “But while they’re in there and have things opened up, it’s hardly any extra cost to have (the contractors) install the wiring and other equipment we would want to install to allow us to do future work easily. Having to have to have them come back out and open everything up again to install it in the future would be much more expensive.”
With a goal of fiscal responsibility in mind, Young said he makes significant use of E-Rate, a federal program that allows schools and libraries to lessen their technology costs by putting their needs up for bids and giving them discounted rates from vendors — including a reimbursement as much as 90 percent based on low-income qualification rates among families in a given district.
He said he was initially able to order some network equipment that normally costs $1,500 each for just $900 through E-Rate; after reimbursement, the cost came down to $270.
E-Rate can also help pay for contractors that install the equipment as well, Young said, helping significantly defray those costs. He said that he’s made significant use of E-Rate during his career — “I couldn’t have done most of what I accomplished in Chimacum without it,” he said — but added that he can’t find much evidence that the Sequim school district has used it much in recent years.
“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through when you’re using E-Rate, but it’s worth it in the end,” he said.
Young is looking to extend that efficiency throughout his department, aiming to build out a system that ultimately be capable of having components upgraded, added or replaced seamlessly. That capability is not currently in place, which is why Young said he wants to focus on infrastructure upgrades that would allow the district to have that capability in the future.
Young said he hopes the district can use technology it previously hadn’t taken much advantage of, such as low-voltage network-powered lighting, digital signage, improved audio systems and even automation systems that can do things such as scanning the district’s physical document archives into a searchable digital archive.
The goal for these changes, Young said, is to make operating the district both easier and less expensive.
The infrastructure upgrades, he said, would allow for such systems to be integrated easily and cut out the need for major upgrades to other parts of the district’s infrastructure.
“Basically, I don’t want some future tech director to look at what I did in 10, 15, 20 years, whatever and wonder what I was doing,” Young said.
“I want to make their job easier as much as I want to make the educational experience better for students.”