Behind the computer screen: the school’s technology department


Alex Lautin and Audrey Moussazadeh

In the 35 years since Director of Technology Adam Kenner started working at the school, the school has gone from operating without internet to having Wi-Fi that connects all divisions and buildings with cables underneath the street. The Technology Department’s preparation and management of technology ensures that students have a seamless experience with technology at school, Kenner, who oversees the department and manages its budget, said.
The department is responsible for all technology on campus — from the phone system to the computers in the library. When students are not on campus, department staff upgrade and maintain the technology. During the summer, the department replaces equipment and reimages computers. 

The department also works across divisions. “A lot of time is spent teaching new teachers about new tools and resources that they can implement and use throughout the school year,” Technology Integrator Cassandra Parets said.

On typical weekdays, the department responds to service calls from teachers, Kenner said. These service calls include issues like fixing broken electronics in the classroom. “The first few weeks when school opens each year have calls from people using technology in unfamiliar spaces.”

Throughout the day, Parets meets with teachers and students to address their questions. People come to the technology office to ask both specific questions or “to learn more” about technology, she said. 

Parets begins her mornings by sorting through calls and emails with questions regarding technology. She ensures the team did not miss anything from the previous night and that they are ready for the day. Because she works across divisions, including the John Dorr Nature Laboratory, Parets is “on email all day,” responding to people’s emails with screenshots of how to fix certain error messages, she said. 

Parets also spends time creating and managing accounts for students and teachers, as well as resetting passwords and working in Excel, she said. She also goes into the back end of applications, such as Google and Zoom, to manage any issues there, she said. For example, if a teacher is having trouble with a Zoom meeting, Parets will adjust the meeting’s settings to help out. 

The department also helps the Katz Library staff with their technological needs and provides them with support as needed, Library Technology Coordinator Melissa Kazan said. Kazan usually takes her questions about the library’s hardware to the department.

The library has around 20 desktops and 40 laptops, so when those devices run into issues, the Technology Department helps solve them, Kazan said. The department also helps the library with their Online Public Access Catalog, which is an online database that contains the names and locations of the library’s books, and grants new students access to the catalog each year, she said.

“Recently, we noticed that the library’s desktops and laptops were locking out users after a period of non-use, meaning that new users would have to restart the machines to log in,” Kazan said.

“We asked the Technology Department for help, and Mr. Gutierrez reconfigured our computers to disable the lockout feature.” 

As the Library Technology Coordinator, Kazan teaches students how to use electronic databases, print sources, and use NoodleTools, a digital citation platform. “I feel like I’m the first line of defense when there’s a problem with technology in the library,” she said. “When I can’t answer that question is when I call [the Technology Department]. And sometimes I speak to them multiple times a week, and sometimes I don’t speak to them at all for several weeks.”

The Technology Department also helps Upper Division Library Department Chair Caroline Bartels with the archives. The department is currently helping the library to digitize the archives and making them searchable online, Bartels said. Additionally, they help Bartels with formatting the new site for the school’s summer programs.

In addition to helping the library, the Technology Department manages the technology for assemblies and meetings that take place in Gross Theater and the Recital Hall, Kenner said.

When school was online last year, Bartels ran the assemblies with the help of the Technology Department. However, this year, the administration decided not to hold any online assemblies, Bartels said. 

In addition to helping with assemblies, the department also works on entering students into the schools’ databases. When new students are admitted, they have to be entered into the library database, the college office, the course scheduling software, the attendance software, and the nurses’ software, Kenner said. “Some of that is automatic. Some of that is manual. But the whole operation of the school depends on all that stuff being in the right place in time for somebody to use it.”

Within the Technology Department, Parets focuses most on Google, she said. She looks out for duplicates when creating accounts and logins for students and teachers. For example, if someone has the same name as another person, Parets creates a distinct account name for the second person. Parets gets information from the main database, then uses that to generate FirstClass, the school’s email system, and Google account logins. 

The department uses contractors for some of their projects, though, in some cases they learn how to do the project themselves, Kenner said. Whether or not the department hires contractors depends on a project’s scope. For example, the Technology Department hired contractors to replace the phone system a few years ago. “That was a massive, months-long project with dozens of people working in every building in the school to upgrade a phone system that at that time was 25 or so years old.”

The school is also in the process of replacing the software that the finance and registrar’s offices uses, Kenner said. The new software is called Veracross, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email to parents. The software may expand in the future for course scheduling, attendance, and medical records, Kenner said.

Over the past few months, the department troubleshooted issues with the school’s Wi-Fi, which had been dropping out in specific classrooms, Kenner said. The department resolved the issue with configuration changes, Kenner said. The school uses a mesh system: a group of 240 access points — extenders that each device connects to — located around the school that are all centrally managed by a cloud service, Kenner said. 

The department also manages FirstClass. Raghav Poddar (10) does not mind using FirstClass because he is appreciative of the “unsend” function, but he hopes for a switch between servers because Gmail’s modernity makes for an easier user experience — especially because he would like to start receiving email notifications, he said.

Steve Yang (11) thinks that FirstClass could be improved as it is currently slow, glitchy, and outdated, he said. Like Poddar, he appreciates the “view history” function — where you are able to see who has read and replied to the email — and the “unsend” function, however he would rather use Gmail because the interface is faster, familiar, and streamlined, he said.

Loren Pretsfelder (11) dislikes that the FirstClass server does not save edits made after the app is closed. “There’s nothing more frustrating than when I spent time drafting an important email to a teacher all for it to get deleted right when I click send,” Pretsfelder said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to rewrite an email because it just disappeared.” Pretsfelder’s frustration with FirstClass malfunctions has led her to wish for the school to switch to another mail server, she said. 

The school wants to stop using FirstClass before it’s parent company, OpenText, stops supporting it, Kenner said. Kenner hopes that the school will have changed its email server by then.

In terms of software that students use, the school made the transition from PowerSchool Learning to Google Classroom last year. Since PowerSchool was acquired by another company, the department felt as though the company who purchased PowerSchool wanted customers to change to another one of their products, Kenner said. “It seemed like PowerSchool was going to be discontinued or wouldn’t be supported [anymore].” 

The Technology Department also worked with the division heads and decided to integrate many of their services into Google because it makes the services easier for them to manage, Kenner said. 

As Technology Integrator, Parets helps teachers work to incorporate technology into their classrooms as best as possible, she said. For example, this year, the Middle Division followed the Upper Division in switching from PowerSchool to Google Classroom. In preparation for this shift, Parets offered extra workshops to teachers and students where she taught more about Google Classroom, she said. 

In terms of keeping students safe online, a few years ago, the department’s focus was on cybersecurity and maintaining a secure electronic “border” around the school, Kenner said. “Several years ago, there was a substantial increase in malware and network intrusion[s] worldwide, and all organizations were encouraged to substantially enhance their protective measures.”