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Spring 2019 Issue One
Lorrie Owens
Grizzly Challenge Charter School
by Matt Pauls 

I work for Grizzly Challenge Charter School, which is partnered with the National Guard to form Grizzly Youth Academy Challenge Program. Our program provides a quasi-military environment for 16- 18 year old at-risk youth, who often come from backgrounds that feature gangs, drugs, homelessness, and many other negative circumstances that keep teens from attending school. The military structure including the cadences and motivatorsprovides a predictable, safe environment for students so they can focus on positive change in their lives, while earning much-needed credits, job experience, and real life skills.


My IT professional career began at the Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD). I began working for the district’s IT department while I was still in high school. After graduating, I was fortunate enough to land a full-time job in the IT department and eventually end up as a Network Technician. As many jobs are in K-12 organizations, that meant that I worked on everything from printers and computers to networks and servers. After 6 years, I switched jobs and began working for Grizzly Challenge Charter School. Grizzly offered a higher starting salary than what my Network Technician job was about to top out at. Since the Network Coordinator position we were trying to get approved didn’t happen, there was not much room to grow professionally at AUSD. Grizzly offered an opportunity to explore more of a role as an IT leader. My job title at Grizzly is Technology Trainer realistically I’m doing very similar things as I did for the school district, with the added benefit of being in the role of an IT leader for the school. It was a challenge to transition from working with an IT team at AUSD with all its resources, to working alone at a small charter school. There were three things that stood out to me in this transition: the scale, flexibility required, and the interactions with students and teachers. As you would expect, the scale that IT operates in a single charter school like Grizzly is much different than a school district. At our charter school, I support 30 school staff members and 230 students, with a new cohort every six months. Despite the numbers of staff, students, and equipment being different, for the most part I found myself doing very similar tasks and I was grateful for the experience I had gained while working for the school district. When I stopped working for AUSD, we had just built a brand new server room. We were in the middle of a large bond project that included new networking hardware (wired and wireless) and wiring at all of our sites. I was helping make decisions and build networks and systems that will affect the learning of thousands of students for years to come. In contrast–when I began working for Grizzly, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. As the sole IT support, I knew I wouldn’t have a new “datacenter” with multiple servers and failover capabilities, and I expected to be doing a variety of tasks–but then again, we only had 230 students and were a single school, so how busy could I be?


We had a 1:1 program with netbooks that were on their last legs, teachers with older laptops and a wireless system that was barely meeting the density needs of the classroom. I spent a lot of my time replacing screens and cobbling together working netbooks for students. I went from supporting many virtual host servers with a SAN and redundant failover to two servers in separate locations. My ‘failover’ at the charter school was my second domain controller in a separate building. However, I was still supporting a virtual environment, and an entire network, as well as student and teacher devices. What I was doing in essence was similar to the school district, just not as much of it. I still had to maintain a network, servers, cloud services, and keep user devices running. The breadth of experience that I had gained while at AUSD was essential to being successful at Grizzly. It was difficult to shift my mindset from a focus on a larger environment, where we were automating and rolling out tools like Microsoft SCCM, to doing things manually again. I missed the complexities of SCCM and the widespread impact I felt that my very technical work was having. The feeling of satisfaction that came from deploying a new program across the network with just a few clicks was replaced with the satisfaction of having students thank me as I sat with them to troubleshoot why the formatting in their Google Doc wasn’t working quite like they had hoped. It felt good to get back to my ‘why’ of working for schools: using my talents and abilities to make other people’s lives better and enable learning. I found that working for a small charter school instead of a district wasn’t all that much different: technology breaks, and it needs fixed, just at a smaller scale. And, anyone can be an IT leader regardless of the size of the organization.


Working for Grizzly, I’ve had to become much more flexible as a tech. Our program is only 5 1/2 months long, and we have two classes of 230 or so students a year. Needless to say, we move quickly. Sometimes that means that I’m blindsided by requests such as: ‘Hey Matt, we are going to have everyone use their Chromebooks at the same time to get their food handlers certificate. Next week. We can do that, right?’ And yes, yes we can. In the beginning, last-minute requests would leave me frozen and not quite sure what to do next. As a planner, I like order and systems and schedules. The only last minute issues I normally dealt with were typically network outages--work was submitted through a workorder system and it was easy to plan our day out as a team. At Grizzly, I’ve learned to have a mindset that’s ready for anything. I’m closer to the action, and I’ve taken to heart the mission of the program I believe what we do is important and valuable. Sometimes things need to happen quickly, and that’s ok. I no longer had other techs to rely on, or a team to help take the impact of issues that arose suddenly. So I found that if something happened, I was the one to fix it, which meant dropping whatever I was working on at the time. In addition to the fast-paced environment, being a small school means that everyone wears multiple hats. My job is no exception. There are some tasks beyond technology I really do enjoy. As you might expect, there are other things that I do that aren’t necessarily in my interests, but they contribute to the success of students and the success of our program. My mindset has shifted from a mostly technology-centered mindset to a studentcentered one, and it’s made a huge difference. I feel like I’ve always had a mostly studentcentered focus, but working at Grizzly has refined and sharpened my perspective to put any decision I make or project I implement through the filter of how it will enable student learning.


My office is essentially one of the classroom buildings, and I’m the sole IT support. So you can imagine what that means for me–I have teachers dropping by with questions constantly, staff contacting me via texts, emails, instant messages, and notes on my monitor. Students are frequently emailing with questions and asking me about computer problems as I walk into a classroom.


Not really in the sense of being interrupted–deep work time is precious and it should be protected–but I’ve discovered my accessibility as a technician to teachers and students is critical. Being so close to and embedded in the classroom, I have come to see how important a tech’s response time is to the learning process. For example, if a teacher’s document camera software freezes up, and a few minutes is spent trying to get it to work, the momentum in the class is lost. Flow and smooth transition is vital in the classroom, and technology can be one of the biggest obstacles to that. Grizzly has a technology club that I teach. In that class, even as a tech, I’ve experienced how difficult it can be to create flow and engagement, and how frustrating it is when technology doesn’t work quickly or predictably, and how difficult it is to ad-lib while troubleshooting and then bring students back to focus once the tech is actually working. There are several approaches to solve this problem, with the goal being that technology be “invisible” so that it does not interrupt teaching and learning. Trainingformal and informalis key to avoiding this technology-caused disruption in the classroom. Since we’re a smaller school instead of a large district, I’m able to hold many focused trainings with our staff. I often have drop-in lunch trainings, where I go over a lot of basic things, but it helps to set a baseline that everyone can speak the same language about the technology. And it’s fun to watch teacher’s minds get blown as they realize how some of the more advanced features of programs can make their jobs easier. Preventative maintenance, systems, and optimization is another key way that can help avoid technology-caused disruption and streamline operations. Since we’re a smaller school without the workload of many sites to support, I’m able to spend time on preventative maintenance and getting our systems dialed in. Since my workload has not been as hectic as working for a district, I’ve been able to work with staff and teachers to build scripts and systems that are specific to our school’s processes that dramatically reduce time and errors with technology. Working so closely with students and teachers has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from this job that I will keep with me as I move forward in my career. Being in classrooms daily, supporting students, the curriculum, and teaching, I’ve seen firsthand how technology influences and is used in the learning and teaching process. Even the little things are very important. Working for a small single charter school from a technical perspective really isn’t all that much different than working for a school district. Sure, I miss the expensive tools I used to have access to, and I miss my team that had my back and I could bounce ideas off of. However, the difference of being able to work so closely with students and teachers and see an immediate, positive effect of my work on their lives is an incredibly satisfying experience not many techs are lucky to have.

Publications Library

Item Name Posted By Date Posted
Fall 2019 PDF (23.28 MB) Administration 12/13/2019
Summer 2019 PDF (3.67 MB)  more ] Administration 7/23/2019
Spring 2019 PDF (4.75 MB)  more ] Administration 7/23/2019
Fall 2017 PDF (6.64 MB) Administration 5/13/2019
Fall 2018 PDF (41.2 KB) Administration 5/13/2019
Spring 2018 PDF (4.48 MB) Administration 5/13/2019
Winter 2018 PDF (2.68 MB) Administration 5/13/2019