Shade guides schools into new technologyMorgan County Schools get wired for 21st century learning
Neat highways of gray, black and blue cable criss-cross the tall block walls around Tom Shade. Inside a small room tucked away at the back of Berkeley Springs High School's media center, a large cabinet is the end of the line for the wires, which link Berkeley Springs High School's computer network and server.
It's a daunting sight — all the connections, flashing lights and colored cables. As the Technology Director for Morgan County Schools, Shade sees the hardware in its larger context. To him, technology is just a tool to help students prepare for their futures.
My ultimate goal is for Morgan County Schools to offer the best technology to prepare students for life after high school, Shade said.
Tom Shade became Morgan County Schools' Technology Director in late November
2007, taking over from retiring Curt Heldreth. Heldreth
pioneered the technology
position in the school system and was a leader in school
technology around the state.
Shade, who runs Frontier Technologies in Berkeley Springs, was an obvious choice for the technology job. His computer company has contracted with the school system to provide services over the years.
I already felt at home here, Shade said, referring not just to the network center of the school's computer system, but to the whole school system.
Shade's connections to Morgan County schools extend beyond his professional life. He graduated from Berkeley Springs High School, and watched his daughter get her diploma there last year as well.
Those roots and a desire to prepare students for the future motivates Shade to keep pushing the county toward a higher-technology learning environment.
Wired for learning
Right now, there are roughly 2,500 students attending Morgan County schools. In order to serve their classes, which are increasingly dependant on web-based activities, Shade maintains nearly 900 internet connections that must work every day. He doesn't do it alone, however.
Shade relies on designated staff members at each of the county's eight schools to do basic technology troubleshooting at their school. These Technology Integration Specialists (TIS) are on the front lines of keeping computers, Smartboards, networks and other electronic tools up and running.
Duties for those school-based specialists can range from rebooting computers after an electrical outage to sending out automated phone messages to parents about weather-related cancellations.
Keeping on top of ever-changing computer tools requires training for each of the school's specialists, lots of coordination by Shade and money.
Luckily, Morgan County Schools has been the beneficiary of grants to help pay for its technological advances.
This February, the school system was awarded $28,800 from the E-rate program, which offers discounts for technology services in schools and libraries.
Part of Shade's job as Technology Director is to help shape the budget for technological learning tools for the near future, and to find funding for inevitable upgrades, improvements and expansions.
Choosing the best tools
Keeping up in the world of technology can be tough. Every day, a new piece of equipment or software appears, promising to do a better and faster job.
Upgrading a computer system at home, however, is much different than reprogramming a bank of computers in each classroom in eight schools. Shade has to evaluate new technology based on a much bigger set of criteria.
Just because there's a better mousetrap out there doesn't mean it's the best for your scenario, Shade said.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to computer software applications, but Shade's main criteria for choosing technology tools is whether the tool can operate reliably and consistently, and grow with the school system.
Most new textbooks now come with internet-based tools that offer student activities, track course progress and allow teachers to tap into a wealth of learning activities that would never fit between the covers of a book.
Teachers are hungry for it; they want to use technology, Shade said.
In fact, the West Virginia Department of Education has made computer and web literacy a very high priority, requiring all teachers to incorporate technology into nearly every course at every grade level.
The 21st Century Tools initiative is a push for some schools to get their technology up to speed, and an incentive for systems like Morgan County to expand how students and teachers can work computers into their everyday class experience.
A visit to any local classroom puts the issue of technology in clear terms — even the youngest students expect to
use computers in their
daily learning, because tech-
nology is as familiar a tool
to them as paper and pencil.
Tom Shade's job is make sure those young students can get on with their work without technological barriers to slow them down.
Part two of Morgan County Schools get wired for 21st century learning will address the balance of technology and direct instruction inside the classroom.