Montclair Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Penny MacCormack, sends out a monthly newsletter titled “Straight from the Superintendent.” In her latest edition she discusses the approved 2014-2015 budget and gives props to District Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer for his work, shares information about her meeting with Hillside School parents, announces upcoming PARCC 101 information sessions, and introduces the district’s new Director of Technology or “IT Guy” Barry Haines.
Read the entire newsletter here, and learn more about Barry Haines below:
The new school budget funds the construction of an information technology (IT) infrastructure that will support 21st century teaching and learning. The district’s director of technology, Barry Haines, is charged with overseeing these important upgrades.
Before coming to Montclair, Mr. Haines supervised educational technology efforts in two large New Jersey school districts: Parsippany-Troy Hills and Flemington-Raritan. He has taught computer science to elementary and middle school students and, prior to teaching, developed music and technology products for educational publishers. He holds an M.A. and M.Ed. from Columbia University Teacher’s College and is completing a doctorate from Northeastern University.
So what exactly does a school district’s director of technology do?
It used to be that the IT guy was the geeky staff member you called to troubleshoot your computer. The new paradigm for an IT director is someone who, working closely with all members of the district, provides insight and solutions for both education and operation. It’s about working in a creative organization and helping talented people realize their visions. Today, the geek side is about one-third of the job. The other two-thirds are about communicating, sharing, and collaborating with staff (from teachers to principals to staff development personnel) and identifying and meeting student technology needs.
The bottom line is, technology is a tool, a way to help even the playing field for students and their educators. It’s my firm belief that technology helps students find their voice by providing innumerable avenues for both learning and expression. Beyond devices, bandwidth, protocols, and policies, what’s important is how we empower our children to learn and create work they are passionate about. Ultimately, my role is to help each child unlock his or her potential and enrich the human spirit through the use of technology, and that is the best part of my job.
How will technology funding enhance the classroom experience?
In most of our school buildings, when a student clicks to open a web page it can take up to 90 seconds to open. This means, for example, that teaching our middle and high school students the skills to perform simple research tasks during class is out of the question. Also off limits is the ability for any teacher to show an informative video or web 2.0 manipulatives, game-like applications that are especially useful in math and science classrooms. Rather than providing students with the rich instructional options the web offers, classrooms are filled with students chanting, “Buffering, buffering, buffering… .” The new budget will enable us to increase the bandwidth within schools and to upgrade older equipment and wireless access points to handle the increased bandwidth. There is also funding in the budget to help us achieve technology equity and parity across all schools.
Next year, students should start to experience the same high-speed internet surfing that most experience outside of school. The beauty of greater bandwidth is that it frees teachers to provide real-time access to the world’s best libraries and museums and helps them provide a classroom experience that fosters interest not just in the current chapter of, say, the AP US history text, but also in lifelong learning.
Do you have a guiding principle around technology and education?
I believe that technology has the power to reveal every student’s potential. Every student should have access to whatever technology (be it tablet, laptop, or desktop) lets them create projects and presentations that excite them. Whether that creativity involves writing and revising a short story or researching history to make a multimedia presentation, it is our responsibility to teach students how to use these tools. I also believe in the importance of making sure that every student has an equal chance of finding his or her voice, especially given that not all students have access to technology at home.
Likewise, I look forward to supporting our wonderfully creative staff and teachers, helping them to unlock their potential as educators through the powerful tools technology offers.
What is your personal favorite tech gadget?
The much-rumored iWatch. I am a baby-boomer, and the idea that I might view a personal device that will tell me my blood-pressure, heart rate, hours of sleep, hours of exercise, and so on, is really exciting. As a society we mine data for all kinds of purposes—except, it seems to me, for preserving our own health. Wearable devices designed to improve one’s mindfulness and fitness fascinate me.