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New York City school board links old and new to recruit new teachers

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In late 2000, the New York City Board of Education turned to its IT organization and consultants for help in building a system that would recruit teachers for a huge school district. The problem: a possible severe teacher shortage for a newly mandated summer program set to begin in less than nine months.

The goal: to more quickly receive and process thousands of applications for summer positions, and to utilize IT in a program to recruit potential teachers from far outside the borders of the New York region. Officials said the summer school program needed 17,000 teachers and could not recruit nearly enough from the system's school-year workforce of 80,000 teachers. The school system projected the summer student population at 300,000 compared to a school-year total of 1.1 million.

School officials developed a plan to implement a Web-based nationwide recruiting effort through the fall months and then sought proposals from a variety of consulting firms with experience in building systems that link mainframe legacy applications to the Web. The plan required that the winning bidder complete the project within three weeks to ensure that the teacher recruitment program could begin on time, insiders said.

The critical deadline led IT officials to seek out a solution that could extend existing mainframe applications rather simply and support the Extreme Programming (XP) process utilized by the operation, officials said.

The board aimed to link teacher applications collected via the World Wide Web to critical data stored on mainframe systems to significantly hasten the processing of the data. Such a system would allow recruitment from far outside New York City, bringing a more diverse, global set of educators to the summer school program, officials said.

Insiders said the school system faced significant problems implementing the mandated summer program at all if the project was not completed within a three-week period. The school board had already scheduled advertisements to be published and displayed in several U.S. cities heralding the opening of a Web site for applying for the summer teaching jobs.

"The problem for the Chancellor of the school system was to get enough people to teach the summer school," said Harry Miller, president of Mips Corp., a Syracuse, N.Y.-based consulting firm that ultimately oversaw work on the project. "The problem for IT was to get this project done quickly," he added.

The schedule, along with cost issues and the experience of engineering personnel, forced the school system's IT operation to quash its initial plans to build a completely new system that would let it discard the legacy applications and instead depend on new applications. Consequently, the department moved to evaluate several options for extending the mainframe technologies to the Web.

The technology options evaluated included IBM's WebSphere Host On-Demand middleware; the WebConnect middleware technology from Dallas-Based OpenConnect; and EnterpriseLink, a middleware system from Micro Focus International, San Francisco.

After each was used to build trial applications, IT officials chose the EnterpriseLink technology, which Micro Focus inherited following its spin-off last fall from Merant, now based in Portland, Ore. The project was undertaken by a team of IT developers, including Kamal Kumar, senior director, Division of Instructional and Information Technology; Project Manager Jennifer Thompson; Project Leader Celestino Rios; Programmers Lev Medovoy and Olga Klyzner; and Jerry Killion, director of client services at consultant Mips Corp.

Mips' Killion said a key reason for the selected technology was its support of both the Oracle database used for the new application and the Model 204 database underlying the student information system that had to be accessed by the new system. In addition, the technology did not require a complex programming effort to extend mainframe applications to the Web. Microsoft's Windows 2000-based Internet Information Server 5.0 system was selected to host the new teacher recruitment Web site, he added.

The project also called for developers to "screen scrape" the mainframe "look and feel" of several mainframe applications and create a user-friendly version for the Web piece of the system, explained Killion. The new Web application mapped elements of each page back to the corresponding elements of the host application that is stored on the mainframe. Developers utilized the Micro Focus middleware to adapt the mainframe information into the newer, more modern look and feel.

Support for XP concepts was required to support the highly iterative deployment process that had to quickly respond to the needs of the school department's human resources department.

No formal time was established for this project because of the three-week limit placed on the work. However, developers did meet the three-week deadline, starting in mid-February and finishing in early March 2001, said Killion.

School officials said the program was initiated almost immediately upon completion of the project in March. The HR department estimates that about 20%, or more than 4,500, of the 23,000 applications presented for summer school teaching positions were submitted via the Web site. Officials expect those numbers to significantly increase in the effort to recruit teachers for the 2002 summer program.

A specific dollar figure was unavailable, but school officials maintained the recruiting system saved the school department significant sums associated with recruitment fees, substitute teacher compensation and new technology costs. Officials also maintain that the system offers the district competitive teacher recruitment.

Once the recruitment system was in place, IT developers worked to quickly extend the technology to provide Web access to data for members of the school system's staff, including teachers, administrators and other officials. For example, teachers and others can access the Web after hours for research projects and to apply for other jobs within the system.

School officials noted that teachers and administrators were able to utilize the technology almost immediately after the project was completed. The system quickly generated significant savings in recruiting budgets, and also cut costs associated with substitute teacher compensation and technology purchases.

Application profile:

Project: Web-based recruiting system

Purpose: To more quickly receive and process thousands of applications for summer positions, and to utilize IT in a program to recruit potential teachers from far outside the borders of the New York region.

Benefits: The Microsoft Internet Information system saved the school department significant sums associated with recruitment fees, substitute teacher compensation and new technology costs. Officials also maintain the system offers the district competitive teacher recruitment.

Tools: Micro Focus Enterprise Link 4.0

Development Team: Kamal Kumar, Jennifer Thompson, Celestino Rios, Lev Medovoy, Olga Klyzner and Jerry Killion

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.

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