|Michael Gras, Technology Director, White Oak ISD|
Recipient of the TCEA 2011 Technology Administrator of the Year Award
Over the last few years, new voices have arisen sharing a different vision of what technology support in school districts could be. Acknowledging the value of their words often means setting aside traditional approaches to technology administration. This has been reflected in Michael Gras' words and wisdom, tapping into the power of the educational technology community:
I guess this was just another thing that demonstrates the desire of the TECSIG to be responsive to the needs of its members. It was a pleasure to meet you all and to hear of the efforts being made by our members to serve children. How cool it was to be exposed to the high level expertise that is at our fingertips right inside our own organization.
Mike also points out the following:
My District (White Oak ISD), when compared to other districts in Texas is always in the bottom 10% in funding and always in the top 20% in student achievement as measured by the state. We were heavily invested in servers and software. That is no longer the case.
In fact I told my superintendent last week that my department is in better shape this year financially than ever before. Consider doing what we have done -get rid of your servers. See if your administrators will allow the opening of your network to the world at large (Filtered goes without saying, I hope). The online academic world is richer than any number of "worlds" districts can build. The services a district needs are out there.
...the question is really what do we have left. One BCIS course, Plato, and Follett, which is going online soon (read off site).
Our mail and document storage, calendars etc are done by a staff far more dedicated than I could ever be, Google. Students and teachers are responsible for their own file storage. Many of the stored files are available online through teacher and student blogs. Cooperative projects abound because of Google's ability to share all sorts of files, from videos to spread sheets. When Google goes down I'll be out of luck but I won't be alone.
Our Web site and lots of our Moodles are hosted off-site for less than $5.00 a month. I have near total control there but don't need it We do e-portfolios and blogging, using WP-MU that costs thousands but what a value. See http://edublogs.org/
No single human can keep up with our teacher's accomplishments in those blogs and our students are developing positive identities on the cloud . Out there control is not the issue it is more an issue of trust. Parents of every student can know what is happening tomorrow in every class at White Oak and reviews are being attached to every item in each teacher's syllabus (we just started this) All this is often done with the personal flair that is hard to believe. As I'm writing this I'm attending a meeting with teachers and administrators via Skype about how we use and will use our network The enthusiasm for teaching and the excitement about the resources delivered is hard to communicate.
In this meeting a teacher of 25 years just said she is more excited than ever about teaching and the resources we delivered has produced a new spark in her life and her classroom. She added that the network is it is a blessing in the classroom. A Blessing...Let that sink in. I'm not bragging, I'm trying to share. A Blessing, I can hardly believ it myself. I don't need to control more and I don't need to trust less.
Hard times are easier to bare [sic] if the teachers are excited about what they can do with what they have at their disposal. We have an agreement among many at White Oak that less is more when it comes to control. I must say this meeting with the teachers that attended TCEA sharing with administrators abut their successes has me on cloud 9. One teacher said the network is so much better than it was 3 years ago.. And the big difference between now and then... we use other peoples servers.
It may be that some are reading Mike's comments with a healthy dose of skepticism, shock, and who knows what else. It may be that some who read his words are wondering, "How does he get away with being so irresponsible?"
But to be honest, the only thought that comes to mind now is, "How long before tech directors and school districts broken by economic realities look to Mike Gras as the white-bearded prophet calling for absolute surrender?"
And, another point to consider...before, Mike Gras was a technology director in an East Texas district who might easily be overlooked or ignored.
NOW, Mike Gras IS the TCEA 2011 Technology Administrator of the Year.
Kudos, as well to the other finalists, including Joel Adkins (Kerrville ISD):