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Investing in Infrastructure to Solve Complex Challenges

Step-by-step guidance on investing in educational infrastructure to transform learning


Infrastructure is the backbone of all educational services. For example, physical infrastructure (e.g., school buildings and classrooms) is essential to creating a conducive learning environment and ensuring student safety. Similarly, the past three years have highlighted the importance of technological infrastructure. As learners’ needs change, it is essential to continue improving educational infrastructure as it directly influences learning outcomes.

For education leaders, infrastructure is also foundational to innovation, efficiency, and both institutional and student advancement. By implementing a strategic and holistic approach to infrastructure, leaders can begin to address and find solutions to many of the challenges within education. Using the example of student nutrition, the following steps offer guidance on ways to invest in educational infrastructure.

Step 1: Assess Needs

Conduct a needs assessment to evaluate infrastructure needs. For example, would upgrading hardware or implementing specialized software help ensure all students have access to nutrition services and updated information, or do they require transportation to access food in different locations? A needs assessment will help you get to the root cause of the situation and identify any gaps that may require additional investments.

Step 2: Utilize Existing Online Platforms

Explore the integration of existing virtual platforms and online tools for nutrition services and to streamline communication with students and parents. Are there platforms that are currently being used for communication or academic purposes that can also meet the nutrition needs of students? For example, a platform already being used to communicate academic information to students, such as Class Dojo, ParentSquare, or Canvas, can also allow families to report their nutrition needs each week or month to schools.

Step 3: Assess Physical Facilities

Determine if physical spaces, such as central meeting locations or kitchen facilities, are necessary for in-person components of nutrition programs. Explore ways to adapt or create physical spaces within the virtual and hybrid school environment. Is it possible to build a structure to meet this need? Can you convert school buses into mobile food distribution centers? Identify what is needed and what resources are available to meet that need.

Step 4: Explore External Collaborations

Investigate opportunities for collaboration with local community centers, food banks, libraries, or other public spaces to serve as hubs for in-person nutrition services. Also, consider partnerships with local businesses, such as restaurants or catering services, to fulfill infrastructure needs for meal preparation and distribution. By establishing community partnerships, virtual and hybrid schools may be able to create sustainable relationships that help meet students’ nutrition needs while also contributing to the success of organizations or businesses within the community.

Step 5: Evaluate Financial Resources

Evaluate the financial resources available to support and sustain infrastructure investments. Although federal funding is a common option, also explore external funding sources such as grants or partnerships to offset costs associated with necessary enhancements (e.g., partnering with a supermarket, foodbank, restaurant, or internet provider).

Step 6: Implement Training and Support

Determine the training and support required for staff, students, and families to effectively use and manage the new infrastructure for virtual nutrition services. Then develop training programs to ensure staff proficiency utilizing upgraded technology and infrastructure. Be sure to consider the existing workload, staff capacity, and overall responsibilities when creating training programs as additional responsibilities may not be sustainable for overextended staff.

Step 7: Develop Feedback Mechanisms

Establish mechanisms for soliciting feedback from virtual and hybrid students and their families regarding their nutritional needs and preferences. Determine methods of collecting feedback that are feasible to complete and that school staff can process and analyze. This may mean implementing surveys, focus groups, or other feedback mechanisms to gather insights and tailor services to specific requirements and needs. Here is an example of the Forest School Online’s Family Feedback Form.

Step 8: Consider the Scalability of Infrastructure

It is important to consider how infrastructure investments can be scaled to adapt to evolving student needs and technology advancements. It is neither practical nor responsible to allocate substantial resources to a temporary solution. Assess the scalability and adaptability of any infrastructure investments to align with anticipated future developments within your setting.

Taking It Forward

While the steps illustrate the example of student nutrition, these questions provide strategic ways to think through and reflect on current infrastructures, identify who is being served, and determine where there might be gaps. By thoughtfully exploring these questions, system leaders can better assess opportunities for improvement, areas of success, and how to better serve all students.

  1. What physical facilities or spaces are required, and how can these be integrated into the virtual and hybrid learning environments? Determine if physical spaces, such as central meeting locations, auditoriums, or kitchen facilities, are needed. If you believe that a physical space is needed, take inventory of the spaces and resources that are available. Be sure to think creatively and innovatively as repurposing space may also be a viable option.

  2. Is there a need for technology investments, such as hardware upgrades and/or specialized software? Identify potential gaps and evaluate the need within your specific school context. Determine the long-term viability of current technology and what the best technological solutions are for ease and scalability.

  3. How can you leverage existing online platforms for programming and communication with students and parents? Take inventory of the current platforms utilized within your school. Explore the capabilities of those platforms to determine if it is possible to integrate those existing tools to incorporate and/or streamline communication about new programs.

  4. Are there opportunities for collaboration with local libraries, community centers, institutes of higher education, or other public spaces to serve as hubs for the desired programming or services? Investigate which partnerships are available in your specific city, town, or state. Of those, consider which would be beneficial to meet your infrastructure needs and develop a strategy for engaging those partners.

  5. Can partnerships with local businesses help fulfill the infrastructure needs? Establish collaborative arrangements with local businesses (e.g., restaurants) to utilize their existing infrastructure to support your programming.

  6. What financial resources are available to support infrastructure investments, and how can you seek external funding or partnerships to offset costs? Evaluate budgetary constraints and flexibility. If a need is identified, explore ways to secure grants, alternative funding, or partnerships to fund the necessary infrastructure enhancements.

  7. What training and support will be required for school staff and support personnel to effectively use and manage the new infrastructure? Determine the capabilities and capacity of staff and personnel with the new infrastructure. If there are knowledge and/or skill gaps, consider developing training programs to ensure staff member proficiency, considering staff workloads and capacity.

  8. What are ways to solicit information from students and their families? Develop mechanisms, such as surveys or focus groups, to gather information and insights and ensure services are tailored to their specific needs. Also, consider leveraging existing platforms that families are using to collect data.

  9. How can schools and systems establish sustainable infrastructure investments to adapt to evolving technology, educational needs, and models? Consider the scalability and adaptability of any infrastructure investments to ensure they align with future developments. This requires researching best practices, innovative approaches, and trends within education to ensure that proposed infrastructure changes will have longevity and long-term sustainability.