A New Adventure - Unemployment in K-12 Texas Schools

"Pilgrim, You've Got Work to do." It's a message--borrowed from my watching of mountain man movie, Jeremiah Johnson, that resonated after a disappointing Friday. And, I expect, it's a message that will resonate with many educators--possibly 100,000 across Texas--who will find themselves unemployed or second-guessing their decision to go into K-12 public schools with legislators who have decided to "amputate" entire departments and budgets.

In one of the opening sequences, mountain man wannabe Jeremiah Johnson (played by Robert Redford) is told, "Pilgrim, you got work to do" referring to his need to learn how to survive in the mountains. He was leaving the towns and turmoil of war behind him. This weekend, I've felt like abandoning public schools and escaping to the mountains, to find the marrow of the world.
Note: I may soon be unemployed, and if you're reading this, I ask that you consider hiring me as a consultant or becoming part of your team. Find my online portfolio at http://mguhlin.net , where you can find copies of current and past job appraisals, letters of recommendation and more.
This past Friday, I had my first inkling from our Chief Information Officer that the loss of the State Technology Allotment would certainly spell the end of a highly productive group--The Office of Instructional Technology & Learning Services. The news hit hard, as I'm sure it's sinking in across Texas for at-will district staff and instructional technologists, campus librarians, and probationary teachers--there just isn't any money to keep your position.

Even if the State Legislators decide to reverse their decisions, the cuts are in progress and being made. So, what to do?

Although I'm hopeful my employer will find a useful job to put me to, the facts are stark: a significant cut in pay, a return to classroom teaching at a time when I will have to accept what's available rather than what I see as best for my career, or, potential unemployment and all the stress that brings.

I am still in shock myself, and it's painful to write the next true thing--I may be unemployed by June, 2011, and my team and the work we've been about for almost 10 years gone down the toilet. While I can look at my work over the last 9.5 years with some pride, it's just inconceivable that educational technology will die in its current form across Texas without the State Technology Allotment.
This map shows my first efforts and implementation. Click to enlarge.

When I reflect on what's gone before, I have to list the achievements--and this is but a part of the success that cloaked my team's work--that will be turned back in a stroke of the Governor's pen...each initiative saved my current employer money...not just a few thousand, but hundreds of thousands of dollars.



  When I arrived in my current district, there was NO....
  1. Centralized electronic gradebook and attendance tracking system. I found it unbelievable that there was no electronic gradebook and campaigned to get the RFP and get it implemented. The electronic gradebook now in place is used by all teachers and administrators, professional development is offered annually, and an information network of campus contacts exists to ensure success. My team is directly responsible for providing support in collaboration with other groups.
  2. Professional Development Tracking System. When I arrived in my current district, there was no electronic registration for professional development, no way for teachers to track their professional development. . .secretaries in every office collected sign-up sheets with teacher names and social security numbers, managing registrations via fax or phone calls. I instituted a web-based Filemaker Pro solution that enabled centralized registration management, advocating its use and growing it until the District finally recognized the need for a full-blown learning management system (LMS). We wrote the RFP, and implemented it.
  3. Campus Technology Representatives. This is an idea I brought with me from my time in Edgewood ISD. It's important to keep the lines of communication open, and I asked campus principals to designate 1-2 people at the campus to serve as liasons to their campuses. I saw Campus Technology Representative (CTRs) meetings as a way to interact with campuses and have a reflective dialogue about what was going on at the district AND campus. It has worked well and helped us fine-tune our support services. And, it didn't cost the District any money because the CTRs are unpaid.
  4. Technology Integration Lead Teacher (TILT)  and CRUISE Professional Development Programs. At the campuses, there was no way to build up capacity for technology integration. Teachers lacked the equipment and sustained professional development. The Technology Integration Lead Teacher (TILT) Program changed that. We are now 7 cohorts in and I'd hoped to reach 10 before completely shutting the program down. You can read about it online. The program was sustainable with the State Technology Allotment and not grant dependent...and that was great! This past year, we implemented a related program focused on campuses where teachers--with their principal--could join as a cohort. Where TILT was scattered across the District where teachers could apply, CRUISE enabled them to participate all from one campus.
  5. Content Management System for District and Campus web sites. After pouring money into Dreamweaver maintained sites, it became apparent that campuses could not maintain their own web sites...too much mobility in staff, lack of training in spite of our best efforts meant that web sites were horribly out of date (years out of date). Paying for a proprietary or commercial content management system would have cost dollars per students, an expense that could not be tolerated under the budget available. I advocated and supported the move to transition all campuses and departments to an in-house implementation of Joomla. My team has worked tirelessly to empower distributed web site maintenance to campuses with great success. Now, you don't have to be a wizard at Dreamweaver...instead, you can spend 2-3 hours learning your way around Joomla and update your campus web sites. We have principals that do this because it's so easy.
  6. Technology Applications:TEKS Curriculum and Benchmarks for Middle School. When I arrived in my current district, there was no TA:TEKS Curriculum...teachers still taught computer literacy in whatever fashion they chose. Sometimes, it was good, sometimes it wasn't...it depended on the teacher. There was no expectation or support. I conducted a needs assessment, hired curriculum writers, and required implementation of a curriculum. Later, this curriculum was wholly revised, moved online and placed in Moodle course management system to facilitate online/F2F blended instruction.
  7. Online Learning Capacity. When I arrived in my current district, there was no capacity for facilitating online learning. Moodle? What's that? And, there was no web presence featuring online tutorials and resources for educators, community and students. As such, my team and I worked hard to build that capacity and now we meet the needs of hundreds of teachers and over 4000 students who access online learning opportunities using free open source software like Moodle and/or hosted solutions like PBWorks.com wiki. In all honesty, without these resources, my current district would completely lack experiences in learning online, a fact that is frightening to consider in light of how online learning is exploding in K-16 and adult learning. I can't imagine pulling the plug on our online learning efforts, which have grown to exceed our face to face workshops and interactions.
  8. Way of Assessing Technology Usage in Schools. Making the case for technology integration has always been tough because leaders often don't understand the value of it. That's why I worked hard to establish benchmark assessments using a variety of instruments, such as the LOTI and STaR Chart, to provide data to decision-makers. Over time, that data has been collected and made available to leaders. I'm pleased to say that it has influenced campus level decisions and provided direction.
  9. Digital Video Distribution System. Before cuts in funding and lack of integration with core content crippled the use of digital video, I worked hard to move my current employer from videotape to web streamed videos. This move saved the District money AND enabled greater usage...in fact, usage of web streamed videos easily exceeded videotape usage on campuses, a fact that never failed to surprise proponents of videotape.
  10. Technology planning. Technology planning of instructional activities grew under my leadership and the teamwork of my colleagues. Our technology plan, when submitted as an eplan, garnered high scores and moved the District forward. You can see that here.
  11. Technology Competency Certification Plan (TCCP). I envisioned a technology competency certification plan, that my team developed and we tried to implement. The plan has been adopted and used in different school districts, even if only partially successful in mine.
  12. Various Administrator Technology Institutes. This involved a variety of institutes for administrators on the use of technology to improve their own productivity, learn how to assess technology use in classrooms. These were successful but slowly lost momentum over time.

Earlier this summer, I put together a presentation that shared quickly, briefly some of what we're doing--all of which is in jeopardy. As I view that presentation, I must confess that I am depressed about the hard work of so many will be cast aside and that they will find themselves returning to the classroom as teachers without the technology tools that they need. It is a waste.

2009-2010 breakdown of Professional Learning
2007-2008 Breakdown...Instructional Technology offered incredible amount of training opportunities. More graphs here.


In spite of all that, I have worked hard to find the silver lining. For a few brief moments, as I watched Jeremiah Johnson begin a new life so different from the past one, I imagined a new adventure, away from public schools and the unfortunate decisions leading to their destruction. It is that new adventure that beckons now, calls to me.

I can only hope that those brief moments are enough to weather the storm that darkens my sight, saps my energy, and makes me long for yesterday. To do that is death...I must look forward.

The future is unwritten.




Be sure to read 7 Tips for Managing Joblessness and 9 Ways to Search for a Job in a Texas Tough Economy


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

Techiethomas said…
I am feeling all the feelings I felt when my department was eliminated last year. My heart and prayers are with you and all the great educators in Texas. This is a difficult time.
If you worked 11 or 12 months, begin to talk to your payroll department so something can be worked out to assure checks during the summer months.

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