Windward’s Technology Office has been on the front lines facing the upheaval created by COVID-19, and the 10-person team has confronted its barrage of new responsibilities and challenges brought on by the pandemic with an unflappable commitment to serve the Windward community, agile problem-solving skills, and enduring good humor. The team members’ professional lives were upturned last March when Windward moved to an entirely new academic environment—remote learning. As a school for children with language-based learning disabilities, in-class instruction has been vital to remediate students and return them to their mainstream schools; however, the technology team, led by Director of Information Technology Dr. Kwamé LaBassiere, embarked upon transferring Windward’s direct instruction model into an appropriate digital platform.
“Once we decided to move to remote learning, we had to get everything up and running live in an incredibly short period of time,” said Dr. LaBassiere. “We had to quickly train ourselves, train our teachers, and then train our families in new technologies in a few days. Were there speed bumps? Absolutely. But building a remote learning program was a huge accomplishment. Everyone has more than pulled their weight since the pandemic began, and I would not trade this team for anything.”
Overnight, the technology Office, which had previously functioned largely as an internal support network for about 350 employees on three campuses, dramatically increased its scope to serve nearly 1,900 students, parents/guardians, faculty, and staff members at six locations (three campuses, plus the former WLS campus; temporary Upper West Side MLS campus; and off-site offices). That was a 442% increase in the number of individuals that the Technology team would serve, which ranged from ensuring every individual had a Windward-issued laptop to setting up individualized Zoom and Microsoft Teams accounts to troubleshooting 2,000 support tickets per month.
Technology played a critical role in the School’s reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year, particularly with opening the new Westchester Lower School campus early and setting up the temporary Manhattan Lower School rental location in the Upper West Side. Dr. LaBassiere credited the leadership of Anne Marie Rowley, Associate Director of Technology, and Chris Mulios, Audio-Visual Technology Coordinator, for meeting the technology needs of the Manhattan and Westchester spaces, respectively. Every classroom required the installation of SMART boards, webcams, microphones, and more.
“Acquiring inventory ended up being really tricky because we were pushed into this at the same time as the rest of the world, and all businesses and schools were ordering the same supplies for remote learning at the same time,” said Ms. Rowley. “When we would speak with the Division Heads or teachers to understand what their problems were in the classroom, we would source the materials to get them in as quickly as possible. Our goal is always to help solve any problems that arise and ensure every child has the technology they need to succeed.”
In order to fulfill its duties in serving Windward’s mission, the technology office’s role as protector often goes unnoticed—and that is how the team prefers it. As Dr. LaBassiere explained, “We have to do the best we can when changes happen outside of our control, like with Zoom or with Microsoft. It’s our job to protect the School.” Usually, the groundwork that the team does behind-the-scenes to troubleshoot problems before they arise is so seamless that users are never aware that there was an issue at all.
The dedicated and unrelenting technology team accomplished these numerous incredible feats, all while working with a reduced staff. The team decreased in size, including the passing of their colleague and friend, Rosalie Campbell, in August. Even while in mourning for the loss of Ms. Campbell, the members steadily continued completing their mission-critical work.
“If I had to be in a foxhole, it would be with this motley crew.”
Despite the personal and professional strain that the Technology Office has endured since last spring, they have remained a true team, through and through. “If I had to be in a foxhole, it would be with this motley crew,” said Ms. Rowley, while the rest of the group nodded their heads in firm agreement. This motley crew team, which includes a World of Warcraft grandmaster, Beatles superfan, Ultimate Frisbee player, EMT volunteer, rock and roll musician, and meditation guru, has truly elevated The Windward School’s educational program for the better and advanced its technological capabilities to the next level.