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Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson is a busy man. He is both the technical director for Bloomington Illinois School District 87 and the CEO of IlliniCloud, a private cloud and nonprofit cooperative formed in 2007 in response to strong concerns about protecting student data.

“We essentially take care of all things technically,” said Peterson. “We provide connectivity to 500-plus school districts and train teachers on how to use the technology.”

Funded by three state school districts and by federal grants, as well as state and local money, IlliniCloud offers a range of tech-based services for schools that include disaster recovery, infrastructure as a service and a data portal where teachers can view dashboards with information from numerous systems, and has launched tech solutions with higher education leaders. More importantly, the cooperative tackles a range of issues facing K-12 districts: decreasing their capital expenditures for IT services; using economy of scale to provide state-of-the-art IT resources; and doing it with better efficiency.

“IlliniCloud is really about being able to take public money, pool it together with others, and build out services so other school districts can come in and work faster and better,” Peterson said. “For example, we received a contract from the Board of Education and our governor’s office about five years ago to provide a data identity solution, so we built that with a number of university and district partners. We provide numerous services that many districts can take advantage of.”

Districts own and operate their own data, identity and portal tools, but utilize IlliniCloud for its variety of services. This way student data can be protected at all times, and responses can quickly be provided to questions that parents have about how their child’s personal information will be used.

“Not all applications are good about protecting data related to children,” said Peterson. “Our No. 1 concern is children’s safety. Their data is a precious resource that we just don’t want to throw out there to everybody.”

As for what is on Peterson’s agenda for the next few years, the trends point to personalized learning, which raises questions but also opportunities. “So how do you personalize learning?” he asked. “How do you enable data, not just for rostering things, but more miniscule data? We want to drive recommendations of the things that are really working in the classroom. We’re building tools on top of that and making applications smarter. We have the time to do it, because we’re not going anywhere.” —Lisa Kopochinski