Back to School, Back to Work, Need a Sign?

By Lois Ritarossi / Published:

K-12 school districts’ in-plant print facilities have been on a rollercoaster since COVID hit. Many faced similar challenges last spring when the shut-down required an immediate transition to online learning. School districts were faced with the immediate need to print millions of books and documents to enable students to continue learning.  The transition to remote learning created an enormous increase in print volumes and turnaround challenges for in-plant operations. And then spring became summer. Many school district in-plants were briefly quiet as they returned to full staffing and teachers and students adapted to online learning.

More than the seasons change

I recently interviewed three managers of in-plant print operations at school districts. They shared their stories of responding to change over the spring, summer, and the start of the new school year.

I interviewed Chuck Werninger, Senior Manager & Records Management Officer, IT Administrative Services, Houston Independent School district. The Houston district is enormous. It is the seventh largest school district in the country and the largest in Texas, with 215,000 students. Steve Priesman, Manager, Printing & Publications Services, Omaha Public Schools provided input. Omaha is a large school district with 54,000 students. I also spoke with Laura Tarbet, Copy Center Supervisor, Pflugerville Independent school district, outside of Austin, Texas which is a growing, medium-sized district with 25,000 students.

In-plants operations were creative in handling the sizable increase in print volumes demanded in the Spring. Preparing for the new school year presented another set of unpredictable challenges. For all three managers, district-wide decisions changed on a nearly weekly basis from June through September about how and when to return to school. There were decisions on how to implement hybrid approaches and define schedules for in-person and remote learning. These directly impacted the volume and content of print materials and how they would be distributed.

Inkjet delivers volumes on-time

The Omaha and Houston districts had both made investments in cutsheet inkjet platforms from Xerox and Canon prior to the pandemic. The uptime and capacity of inkjet was a big win for the print operations, teachers, students, and – I suspect –  many parents. With reliable inkjet capabilities, the districts were able to handle the dramatic increase in print volumes in the spring. Steve shared how the transition to the Xerox Baltoro platform allowed his operation to eliminate several toner and offset printers while providing color capabilities at an affordable cost.  Teachers were able to convert many black and white documents to color in order to support better content retention and learning outcomes. 

Signage, signage and more signage

At start of the new school year, all three managers saw an explosive demand for signage. Every school and every hallway needed signs, posters, banners, and floor decals to educate and inform students, teachers, and staff. Wide-format signage provided critical visual cues to support safe in-person learning environments.

Chuck and Steve have made additional investments this year in wide-format equipment and automated finishing for sheet fed lamination and Colex laser cutting to increase their capabilities. Laura was thrilled that her Ricoh wide-format device was installed earlier this year to meet the growing demands of her district to produce signs.

In Houston, Chuck’s budget was increased to install new inkjet devices to support the demand for printing floor decals and window graphics. Chuck was elated to share their success with the Canon Colorado devices in setting productivity records in the first 60 days of installation. They added the Colex cutter to streamline finishing and cut circles and other shapes to make signs more visually appealing.

Workflow matters

Web-to-print online ordering has made for many happy teachers and principals. Chuck and Laura shared how their design teams created more templates for signs and floor decals and made them available through the web-to-print portals. Systems that previously did not generate many print orders have been rapidly adopted to enable online orders. Staff have come to expect the convenience of web-to-print ordering and comfort in knowing their printed materials will be delivered to their schools promptly.

What’s next?

All three managers expect to steadily see increased in demand for printed documents as more students return to in-person learning. All have plans increase their wide-format capabilities including investment in flat bed printers and finishing to increase throughput. Evaluating their workflow to invest in automation that can eliminate multiple manual steps will drive future investment decisions.

Print matters, inkjet delivers, and effective signage is critical to inform and educate in all environments.

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About the Author

Lois Ritarossi

Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, an independent management consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors.

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