The IT crowd: Oxford schools has a team devoted to technology
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Aug 21, 2013 | 4027 views |  0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At left, information technology specialist Mark Hale helps Clayton Esty with his laptop while computer maintenance technician Candace Finley helps student Hayden Carpenter Wednesday at Oxford High School.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
At left, information technology specialist Mark Hale helps Clayton Esty with his laptop while computer maintenance technician Candace Finley helps student Hayden Carpenter Wednesday at Oxford High School. Photo by Bill Wilson.
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OXFORD — Mixed among the students at Oxford High School Monday — each carrying school-supplied laptops in a small black bags — were six workers whose job it is to keep those computers working smoothly.

The Oxford school district this year unleashed the largest technology program among area school systems, with more than 3,200 MacBook laptops and about 500 iPads circulating among the six schools.

The approximately 1,200 students in grades nine through 12 take those laptops home at the end of the school day, and the 650 or so seventh-and eighth-graders use them while at school.

All that technology costs the district around $750,000 annually, said Eric Burrage, director of operations at Oxford schools; of that money, school officials will spend about $450,000 every year for four years to lease the laptops. The six full-time workers ensure that money does not go to waste, troubleshooting problems and offering explanations on how something works, just like the information technology division of an office.

In 2005 — the year Burrage began working at the district — Oxford City Schools’ technology department was one person. As the school system invested in more technology, the need for workers increased, he said.

Today, Burrage said, the district spends about $250,000 annually to pay the six workers’ salaries and buy the supplies to make repairs.

Burrage said that when he began his career as a fifth-grade teacher at Ophelia Hill Elementary School in Munford in 1994, there was just one computer in his classroom — an Apple IIe.

“I used it a lot. Then we got one MacBook on a cart that we rolled between two teachers,” Burrage said. “I saw the potential that it had and I thought, what could I do if I had more than one?”

Burrage later worked as a specialist in the technology department at Talladega County Schools before being hired at Oxford. Oxford schools Superintendent Jeff Goodwin also came from Talladega County, where he worked as the director of operations, Burrage said.

Mark Hale has worked in the district's technology department since 2005, and said from the time he was hired, it was made clear the goal was to expand the school system’s technology program.

And everyone on the team is expected to do a little of everything, Hale said, because if “somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up.”

Burrage said two of the workers are a few tests away from being certified by Apple Computer to repair the new MacBook Air laptops. They’re already certified to repair the district’s older MacBook laptops.

But with more than 5,000 electronic devices district-wide to care for — from desktop computers and laptops to the phone system and countless wireless Internet modems — there is plenty to keep all six of the workers busy.

Explaining how the department works, Burrage said teachers put in work requests and each morning the workers look on their smart phones to see where they need to be and what needs what they need to repair.

Those work requests are often divided among the six based upon each worker’s expertise, he said. Some focus on student information services, like the system’s learning management software, while others repair laptops or handle any one of the other problems that arise with such a large program.

“All along the way emergencies happen and I have to call them,” Burrage said.

To help pay for laptop repairs as the need arises, parents pay $50 to the school system of an insurance policy. Burrage said administrators hope to get four years’ use of those laptops before changing them out for newer models.

Plans call for students at Oxford Middle School to take their laptops home at the end of the day, Burrage said.

This technology comes with the helping hand of the city of Oxford, which gave $4.9 million to the district last year. Since 1986, the city has given the school system more than $83 million, according to a municipal audit last year.

“I’ve been in a system where things are tight,” Burrage said, “And it’s nice to be able to put the tools out there for them.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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