Features

Jill Ibeck – Jeffco Public Schools

Transforming K-12 technology from reactive to proactive

When Jill Ibeck joined Jeffco Public Schools in July 2021 as its chief information officer, the COVID-19 pandemic was still in full swing, and the district’s IT strategy was more reactive than proactive. Staff continued following local public health orders and struggled to bring students back into the classroom.

Recently, circumstances have been shifting.

“We may be nearing an endemic state with COVID-19, and everyone at Jeffco—a premier place for anyone in the technology or educational field to work—is ready to help our district thrive,” says Ibeck of the second largest public school system in Colorado with over 65,000 students.

Jill Ibeck | Chief Information Officer | Jeffco Public Schools

Jill Ibeck | Chief Information Officer | Jeffco Public Schools

With over 155 schools, ensuring equal access to technology is a momentous endeavor. While many schools within Jefferson County are in the suburban Denver metropolitan area, the others are in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The county’s diverse geography and continually changing demographics raise challenges to providing equitable access to technology, such as laptops and Wi-Fi, Ibeck says. However, that’s exactly what she and Jeffco are aiming to do through the district’s recent strategic planning effort, Jeffco Thrives.

The plan revolves around right sizing resources to determine which schools are sustainable and how to maximize the existing infrastructure. This includes a dark fiber network called JeffcoNet, the completion of which will allow the district to ramp up bandwidth to match students’ and staffs’ technology needs. The project, which started in 2020, is expected to reach a major milestone in June 2023: the network coming fully online. Ibeck says she and others at Jeffco are excited that this will happen in time for the final expansion and completion of a program titled Tech for Ed, which aims to supply digital devices to all students in the district.

“Our efforts are aimed at utilizing technology to achieve equity and sustainability—and, perhaps most importantly, to maximize learning opportunities for all of our students,” Ibeck says.

From equitable technology to a modern data culture

Ibeck adds that underscoring all technology efforts is a push to have a stronger data culture.

“We are looking forward to creating and developing a data culture that allows us to make assessments about our district based on factual data points,” she says.

According to her, maturing the data culture includes helping people throughout the district understand data’s integrity and how it’s being entered in the system.

“Across all the different schools and offices at Jeffco, we need to have the same understanding of what data means and how we will use it, which seems much easier said than done,” Ibeck says.

Jill Ibeck | Chief Information Officer | Jeffco Public Schools

For instance, taking attendance may seem like a simple, straightforward task. However, according to Ibeck, it can become rather complex when the definition of attendance isn’t consistent across more than 150 schools. She explains that an elementary school may count a student who comes in after a certain hour absent while another may count that same student as present. This makes it nearly impossible to understand attendance data without manual translation, she says.

After data is in a usable state, it also needs to be governed in a way that makes it both accessible and protected. For Ibeck, this means a solid technical architecture and data stewardship practices, like educating the Jeffco community and continually improving digital hygiene. Her hope is that improved data culture will allow for better data-driven decision making, leading to better serving areas with a dense student population. This can mean anything from increasing network bandwidth to ensuring student access to the necessary curriculum and materials.

“I believe we are all technologists and tapping into this side is the key to achieving goals, especially at Jeffco,” Ibeck says. “With a limited budget and resources, I find it essential to understand the pulse of technology and skills needed to provide the right service at the right time to our district.”

Boldly venturing into the digital unknown

Ibeck is unafraid of journeying into the unknown—and had no fear of taking a new role at Jeffco during the pandemic. In fact, she was excited to help the district, support the community in which she resides and bring her career full circle.

Her passion for applying technology skills in an academic setting started when she worked at the help desk as a student at Illinois Central College; she graduated in 1997 with an associate degree in business, office automation, technology and data entry. By 2001, she’d also graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with her bachelor’s in management information systems and started her first job: a programmer analyst at the financial services company Edward Jones.

Within five years, Ibeck was once again supporting education when she became a senior enterprise resource planning programmer and technical lead at Adams 12 Five Star Schools in June 2006. After that, she remained in academia, working for several years at the University of Colorado. When the opportunity came up at Jeffco Public Schools, she returned to the K-12 setting, which was her career goal.

Jill Ibeck | Chief Information Officer | Jeffco Public Schools

“Jeffco is my first chief information officer role, but I felt that my prior experience prepared me well, and I’m very proud and excited to be here,” she says. “This role feels like a natural progression and the culmination of my years of curiosity, growth mindset and my passion for educational technologies.”

She also likes building deeper connections with the community. She says she was “thoroughly honored and thrilled” to be included in the 2022 Badass Women of Arvada, a community-nominated honor given by the local chamber of commerce. The award recognized the city’s women leaders and spotlighted how they were breaking biases, the theme for 2022’s International Women’s Day.

“Being recognized within my community is something I am very proud of, and it was incredibly meaningful as a female leader,” Ibeck says. “Many leaders are still venturing into the unknown, so it’s all about being flexible and open-minded as we all figure out this new future—which is an exciting challenge.”

View this feature in the Fall I 2022 Edition here.

Published on: September 28, 2022

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