Tuesday, March 13, 2012
KySTE Conference 2012--My Final Take
I thought the third KySTE Spring conference was fantastic! The board did a tremendous job of organizing and pulling off a very professional conference. And I don't just say that because I'm on the board! Actually, as Past President of the organization, I probably had the smallest role of all of the current board members. President Jeff Jones and Executive Director Gary Grant did most of the heavy lifting, and they did so successfully.
After the conference, after all of the attendees had headed for home (or for local pubs to watch the UK basketball game), after all of the donated computers had been packed away and sent back to their respective homes, after we'd cleared out of the registration area so that the United League of Pentecostal Women could come in and start registering people for THEIR conference (I'm not lying here--they had taken over half of the registration area in the East Galt House while we frantically worked to get our stuff out of the other half of the area, and believe me, I'm not getting a bunch of Pentecostals all worked up!), and while vendors disassembled their "intelligent" classrooms and the convention staff from George Fern started tearing down the vendor hall, those KySTE board members who hadn't made an early exit for home gathered in the Magnolia Cafe for a debriefing and (more importantly) late lunch.
While we ate, we discussed what went well, but--as always seems to be the case--spent most of our time focused on the problems that needed to be fixed. The Members Only reception at the Hard Rock Cafe Thursday night was one issue that needed to be resolved. We turned away about 50 people who didn't preorder tickets, but we ended up with about 100 no shows, meaning that we could have allowed all 50 of those people in. How to fix that for next year was a topic of discussion. Another topic: the raffle during the vendor grand opening. A number of the people who put their names in the raffle drawing either weren't there or had left before the drawing or couldn't hear their names being called over the loudspeakers. We talked about that and decided that we may have to come up with something similar to what we did this year at the closing--that is, have people turn a ticket in when they ARRIVE at the vendor grand opening so that at least we know they were there at some point. Another issue--the lack of effectiveness of our ETAN booth. If you don't know what an ETAN booth is, well, then that says about all there is to say about how effective it was this year. I'm sure that'll be addressed for next year as well.
But as we sat there listing ideas, I said to the table, "If our biggest problems are that we turned people away from an after hours event, and we couldn't give prizes away at a vendor hall opening, then I think we're doing pretty good." And I really believe that. This was only the third KySTE Conference to occur in the spring at the Galt House (Prior to that, the KySTE Conference was a summer affair held--usually--in the home district of the KySTE Vice-president), and each year we've had the conference at the Galt House, the problem list at the end of the day debriefing has gotten smaller and smaller. And more importantly, the importance of the problems have gotten smaller and smaller as well.
At the end of the first conference, the number one problem was the difficutly getting on the Galt House Internet. Whether attendees attached via the wired network or tried the nightmare that at the time was the Galt House wireless network, they usually found that--connect or not--there was no bandwidth available. That's because the Galt House had a whopping 10 MB of bandwidth at the time for EVERY guest, both those in their rooms and those in the meeting room spaces. So even if you COULD get on the network, the bandwidth was maxed out. Another problem at the time was the KySTE dinner, a catered meal at the Galt House attended by almost all attendees on the second night of the conference. The problems were that a) the dinner was VERY expensive for KySTE and b) NOT the right place to have an awards ceremony (No matter how polite people are, if you put them at a circular table with food they're going to talk to one another). A third big complaint was with the organization of the conference, which had been ported to the spring from our annual summer conference. At the time all three days of the conference were open session days (like Thursday and Friday were this year), and there was a complaint from some administrators that it was too hard to have teachers out of the district for three straight days when school was in session. Finally, several attendees complained that there was no continental breakfast for attendees--not even a cup of coffee! While none of these meant that the conference was a dud (It was actually a roaring success!), they were SERIOUS issues that needed to be addressed.
And they WERE addressed for the 2011 KySTE Conference. First, working with Insight and the Galt House, KySTE increased the available bandwidth during the conference from 10 MB to 100 MB. This fixed the network problems for session presenters, who could plug into the network with an Ethernet cable and get out to the Internet just fine. What it DIDN'T do, though, was fix the slow, 802.11b wireless network of the Galt House, so regular attendees without 3G cards had no hopes of getting any Internet access. Second, the dinner was scrapped and the awards ceremony moved to the closing session, where people would be sitting in straight lines and paying attention a little better. This created a new problem, though, which was that the closing ceremony became TOO long. A second problem was created when some of the money previously spent on the dinner was moved to providing hot food for attendees at a lunchtime vendor opening. KySTE wasn't prepared for how hungry people were going to be, and ended up spending more than twice as much as planned on the food for the vendor opening, and STILL people were dissatisfied with how much food there was. On the positive side, though, some of the money saved from the dinner was able to fund a continental breakfast on both the second and third day of the conference. Finally, a third major change LAST year was the reorganization of the conference schedule so that the first day was for non-teachers only (administrators, CIO/DTCs, TRT's, and technicians). Teachers only attended the last two days of the conference.
To address the new issues from last year, KySTE successfully put pressure on the Galt House to upgrade their wireless network, which they literally did days before the conference last week. The wireless wasn't perfect, but when is it ever? Personally, I was on it throughout the conference on my Kindle Fire, two different laptops, and my cell phone, and I rarely got kicked off. Also, the second keynote address was removed from the closing session of the conference, and the closing session itself was scheduled to occur earlier in the day so as to avoid Louisville afternoon traffic. In addition, the vendor grand opening was moved to the after dinner hours, which removed the need to have hot appetizers. Instead, 1,500 pieces of cheesecake were made available as dessert for attendees. And in lieu of a dinner, a Members Only reception was held at the Hard Rock Cafe, with the issues that we described above.
But as I said, the "large" issue at the conference has gotten smaller and smaller each year. We went from "You Guys have GOT to do something about the Internet access" after the first conference to "You guys have GOT to do something about the wireless access" after the second conference to "I didn't know I needed a ticket to get into the Members Only reception." That's quite an improvement each year, especially from last year to this year.
So I guess what I'm saying is, good job, Jeff and Gary. You've outdone yourselves.
I have three months left on the KySTE board, and though I know there'll be a couple more monthly con calls and a retreat in May when a bunch of important decisions will be made, for the most part, my work with the organization is done for now. And that's always bittersweet. But after the fantastic conference that I saw put on this year, I know that the organization is in good hands.
And I look forward to next year, when I get to attend the conference as a regular KySTE member, enjoying the fruits of labor of this new KySTE board.