In October 1995, I made a decision to exit corporate America IT after 10 years and enter the realm of public K-12 education. It was a decision that I did not make or take lightly. After having taught several adult computer classes at a local technical school, I had discovered how much I loved teaching and helping others discover how technology can enhance our lives (both personally as well as professionally).
When the local paper contained an advertisement one day for the first technology coordinator position in the Greeneville City Schools, I took a leap of faith and submitted my application packet. Nineteen years later, I continue to find myself eager each and every morning to get out of bed and work in a school district that has completely convinced me that public education is the very cornerstone of our free democracy, and I refuse to think of it as anything less.
During the course of my life and my career, I have made many mistakes. Who hasn’t? However, one thing that I think I did very well was to recognize, accept, and acknowledge early on that I was not an educator (by training or degree). Instead, I had chosen a different path – a path that had resulted in many unique opportunities and experiences related to embracing, deploying, and supporting various emerging technology strategies. Along that path, I had collected some ideas, learned some best practices, and developed many valuable relationships that would hopefully allow me to partner with educators to bring some of those ideas and opportunities to public education.
To this day, I continue to reiterate to teachers that I have one skill set; they have another. Ideally, we can merge those two skill sets by working side by side to identify instructional technologies that will help us (as a district) accomplish our number one goal of ensuring success for all students.
In 2008, GCS received the ISTE Dr. Sylvia Charp Award for being the most innovative technological school district in the nation. During that same year, we began “encouraging” the use of cellular devices and other personally owned devices at our high school. We quickly realized we were on to something that could potentially change our entire teaching and learning environment. We removed cellular phones from our discipline policy. A few teacher-pioneers embraced the new philosophy and students quickly began using their personally owned cellular devices in many exciting and innovative ways.
Our vision and strategic plan for IT in our district had to change along with the mindset of educators. We began a shift from focusing on specific devices and operating systems to a strategy-based plan to build out and support a dynamic, robust infrastructure that was device agnostic. Our efforts have paid off. On any given day, we register nearly 1,400 personally owned devices on our network used by our 3,000 students.
One might ask how a small school district with only three technical staff members could possibly support an IT program like ours. We give much credit for our success to our Student Tech program. For the past 16 years we have employed Greeneville High School students and trained them to provide district and classroom support.
We are often asked “What do we do when our 16- and 17-year-old students understand technology better than we do?” It is simple. We hire them! We constantly employ a group of Greeneville High School students, who continue to work during summer months even after they enter college. We could not run our network without them.
I look forward to an interactive discussion on these and other pertinent IT topics. We love learning from others as well as sharing our own best practices. Instructional technology integration and success do not simply “happen.” It takes a network of committed professionals working together. We are very blessed in Greeneville City Schools and are always happy to share the things we have somewhat figured out.