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Some Days in the Life - INSANNE Technology Conference

Posted 4/30/99

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Thanks to the miracle of Powerbook technology, I am writing this from a Friendly's in beautiful North Conway, New Hampshire, having gone up to Holderness School just outside of Holderness and Plymouth. It is a sheerly gorgeous part of New Hampshire, nestled among the White Mountains. I had been up there for a "Technology Coordinator's" conference that the Independent Schools of Northern New England (or ISANNE, which is close to insane, which is I'm sure why they picked it) holds every year, so we can compare notes.

Holderness is a beautiful school, nestled among trees and the side of a hill. I wouldn't personally prefer it to the lake we have next to Brewster Academy, but I'm sure others would. It's a very traditional Prep school environment, with traditional classes, compulsory Chapel (nondenominational but compulsory, I guess so nobody at all will feel at home in it), uniforms, required sports, and so on and so on. It's oddly different compared to Brewster Academy, which is radically nontraditional, despite being older than Holderness. The one thing we still have in common are required sports and a dress code -- and our dress code's a lot laxer.

It was a good range of places, from "we've got a couplea' computers an' we plugged 'em in and WHOO -- they worked," to Brewster itself (subtitled "we're utterly insane, be kind to us"). It's kind of fun to be the place that's way out front -- some of the Tech Coordinators had called me before, to use our example to drive additional staff in their IT departments. The one breathing down our neck is Bridgeport -- and they're not the same sort of school we are. They cater to 18-22 year old Postgraduates, looking to realign themselves to a college model.

I'm torn between pride in the Academy's preeminence and a mad desire to wave my arms, shouting "you fools! The waters are rising! Get into the ark! I'll show you the way!" It's simply not that hard to do what Brewster's done. You just have to be willing to force your Faculty to change the way they teach (also called "drive your existing Faculty away") and commit a huge percentage of your resources to the project. The reward? It works.

It's a little like being a Macintosh advocate. It's expensive to switch from Windows to Macintosh. It takes a leap of faith and a good amount of money. The reward is far less headaches, less downtime, far happier staff/faculty/students, and far less learning curve in general. Generally greater productivity and creativity too.

But faith and money are always in short supply in business and education.

There are some things the other schools are doing that I like. I hope they like what we're doing -- I had a good amount to say, at least. But it's meetings like this that make me glad to be in Education. I can't imagine the C.T.O.'s of Compaq, Apple, Dell and Gateway 2000 sitting down and talking about the structures of their network and the way they train the people who work there, but for us it's natural. If it works, share it. We're all on the same team in the end.

One thing that tells me I'm the luckiest kid on the face of the Earth: almost all of the other schools have to fight for necessary funding and generally don't have adequate staff. Of everyone there, only Bridgeport's Tech Coordinator and I were Director Level at their school. (The "Director" level is the Manager/Director/Dean level -- that level that says "we're not Assistant Headmasters, but we're the next best thing.) Everyone else was somewhere below the level of a faculty Department head, with the funding and influence to match. Most couldn't get enough new equipment each year. All were overworked. More than one was a teacher made an IT manager on the side.

That's not possible any longer. If you have a network, computers, a user population between two and five hundred and a full time dedicated Internet connection at your school, your school requires at least as much IT support as a business with two to five hundred employees. The issues you're confronted with match all the issues they're confronted with plus all the issues you get with minors in the candy store. You need professionals, who know the issues, know the difference between switches and hubs and understand the reasons to upgrade and the reasons not to upgrade. Those professionals need the support of their superiors and the respect of their peers. Those professionals need budgets that recognize the world we live in, and the forward progression of technology, and the responsibility of a school to remain on the edge of that. Those professionals need staffs that can take the pressure of the world off of them and make it possible for them to do their job and have outside activities, like sleep.

The others are good at what they do, with the extra bonus of fighting upstream. I am so lucky to work at Brewster, where the Board of Trustees, the Directors, the Faculty and the Headmaster and Associate Headmaster understand and support and have committment for what we do. When you see me complaining in here about how horrid my job is (and you know I will), remind me just how good I've got it, okay?