Jairo E Tzunun, Senior Director Information Technology, LAUSD
We would like to know the journey and the experiences that you have had over the years?
I was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States after high school in 1987. As a recent immigrant and unable to speak English, I enrolled in adult school to learn the language and worked mostly night jobs to pursue my educational goals during the daytime. From 1992 to 1998, I attended Los Angeles City College to pursue a degree in computer science. During that time, I obtained multiple IT certifications that helped me secure a job in the technology field. When my first daughter was born, I dropped out of college to spend more time with my family and could not complete my college degree.
In 1997 I started working as a computer tech for LAUSD in K-12 education. During the following 12 years, I worked directly with schools by supporting classroom technology. I was promoted multiple times to various tech positions and then to a senior tech position, which allowed me to learn about multiple areas of school technology including infrastructure.
In 2009, I found an immense challenge in my life, in order to get promoted into a managerial role I was required to have a bachelor's degree. So in September of 2009, I went back to school to complete my degree. I completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in information systems; I could then apply to the available management roles.
Down the line, as the IT business efficiency analyst, I was able to work on new projects at the LAUSD headquarters. I worked with the CIO at the time to bring new and updated support tools to respond quickly to the needs of our students and teachers. This was a new venture and after this, I started working on the first one-to-one programs which enabled students to have access to digital resources, instructional apps, digital textbooks, and the internet through iPads, Chromebooks, and laptops. Identifying the type of devices and applications, evaluating Mobile Device Management solutions and other software programs to keep them secure, on-boarding of schools that were part of the program, and getting stakeholder buy-in were some of my responsibilities in this project.
Being responsible for starting the device management group, I was able to evaluate multiple tools and negotiated contracts to help us manage devices remotely and configure them to make sure they were CIPA compliant. I brought in a few IT specialists, and we started expanding our one-to-one program where within a period of 2-3 years we deployed over 100,000 devices for student use, helping approximately 100 schools implement the Common Core Technology program.
At the end of 2017, I was asked to lead the new IT Service Management (ITSM) team. Then for a period of two years, I worked on projects to optimize ITSM processes, enable new services, and solve issues being reported by stakeholders.
Just before the COVID19 pandemic outbreak, I had taken a new role as the Director of IT Asset and Software Compliance. In March of 2020, schools started to shut down and the next few months would be critical to ensure that we could get a device in the hands of every student to transition to online learning. We started the Distance Learning project and worked with multiple vendors and carriers to secure devices and connectivity, and to ensure that every student without a device for remote learning was provided with one, while also making sure they had the applications and the productivity tools necessary for remote learning. In a period of 6 months from April to September of 2020, we deployed more than 300K devices to students in LAUSD, while also making sure they had the connectivity at home to engage in remote learning. By the time the second semester started, 95% of our students were engaging in remote learning.
I’m currently the Senior Director for IT Customer Support leading a team of over 400 staff consisting of the IT helpdesk, IT support technicians that provide onsite support to our students, families, and employees, and multiple levels of the IT support teams that provide support with technology-related issues at every school. I also lead the teams that manage special projects and efficiency across the District. My journey in LAUSD started from being an IT Customer Support Technician to the Senior Director of IT customer support for the second-largest School District in the US.
What according to you are some of the major challenges that School Districts are facing?
The primary challenge we have here is budget constraints to sustain the one-to-one program. Computers available today might not be able to support the type of applications that may come in the next few years. With over half a million students in LAUSD, we are planning to replace approximately 125,000 devices every year. The cost of each device is anywhere from $350-$450 for a Chromebook or iPad with LTE capabilities, we need approximately $45-$55 million per year to continue this program. Therefore, it is challenging to find sustainable funding to provide for these devices on a year-to-year basis. Secondly, due to high increase in cybercrimes, every industry, including K12 is investing heavily on cyber security, to ensure that our student and their device are secured and in compliance with CIPA. These are in my opinion some of the main challenges faced by school districts.
Any technological trends, changes or developments that you see happening in the industry lately?
I think one of the biggest trends that were brought about by the pandemic is hybrid learning, where students are not only working directly at school sites but also remotely at home. I can see more schools implementing this program where they offer online-only programs for students, without the need for physical attendance. Progression in this trend comes with the ability to use modern tools to enable collaborations with students and teachers and to empower their learning. The use of AI to understand how we can further support students is yet another emerging trend. eSports is another big initiative that we're going to see, where the students are learning through gaming in a virtual environment through augmented reality to develop soft skills, cultivate teamwork, and improve problem-solving skills.
What are the innovations that these trends brought about?
To further improve the support offered by the IT Customer Support department to students, families, and employees, we are deploying a “chatbot.” Students, families, and employees will be able to resolve some of the issues and obtain information by going into our systems and simply typing the questions that they are having an issue with. This is a self-service option that will help find quick solutions to questions. We are working with a few schools that are looking to implement esports. We are helping with developing guidelines and steps they must follow to understand how the program works before it can be implemented. We are working with the IT security teams, legal counsel, and Division of Instruction to overcome the complications in bringing this program to a classroom environment.
How do you envision the future of this space here in the next 12-24 months?
The typical classroom environment has been four walls, but now with the ability to access learning management systems, online lessons using advanced tools, and instructional applications, I see an opportunity for students to be able to learn anytime, anywhere. It's a rare opportunity that our students don’t have to be physically present in schools to be able to collaborate and communicate, ask questions, and transmit ideas in real time with their teacher and peers.
The use of AI to understand the performance of a student in a particular subject can give us insights on how to assess and help each student. Based on this assessment, teachers will be able to find the right tools and applications to help students thrive. I can see that the future will certainly be dependent on technologies and digitally driven learning environments.
Give a piece of advice for the upcoming professionals or your fellow colleagues in this field, as to how they can be successful in this industry?
The best way to approach any business is to not be afraid to try new things. I think that the most rewarding part of K12 is knowing that you are helping families and communities change their outcomes with education, knowing that you are able to shape new generations of students, to aid them in being successful in life. And at the end of the day, it is about loving what you do, doing your best, and making a difference in your community.
Jonathan Daitch, Associate Provost for Online Education, Western University of Health Sciences and Jonathan Labovitz, DPM, FACFAS, CHCQM, Associate Dean, Clinical Education and Graduate Placement Professor, College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences