Creating a Student Tech Team That Works feat. Tech Director Mark Pinkerton

  • Intro:

Hello, you’re listening to the K12 Tech Podcast bringing you insights into the world of education technology. Stay tuned as we discuss the past, the present, and most importantly, the future of technology in our schools.


  • Zack:

Well, Mark, thanks for joining me today. On today’s podcast, we’re going to be talking about student repair tech teams and managing that and I’ve got an expert on. Can you introduce yourself?


  • Mark:

Sure, my name is Mark Pinkerton. I’m the Technology Director at Eastbrook schools in Marion, Indiana. And I was a math teacher for a little over 10 years, moved into it, when our tech director left we had just started a one to one project. And that initial one to one lift was with a Windows device. And as part of that process we had, out of necessity, we had to start developing a tech class, just to help take care of the repairs we had. It was under a contract where we were shipping out devices. And the turnaround time was so long that we had to start trying to do some repairs in house just to keep devices in the hands of our students. So we sort of out of necessity, created that class and kept it going. And then as we moved into switching up devices to Chromebooks is when we started to reach out to vendors to see what kind of support we could get in a warranty. And that’s when I met Zack. And at the time, the company was a different name when we started to talk about student repair classes that we wanted to maintain that and how that could look with a vendor supported model.


  • Zack:

Yeah, and, you know, we’ve been working together for almost six years now. And you were the first school we did this with where we were like, Hey, we want to look at what you know, a contract would look like covered devices. And ultimately, you sat me down, you were like, hey, like, we’ve got these students here that are good. Like, we’ve already done this, we got this program set up, like, we don’t know if you can do this, can you do it? It was like off the fly. Like, let’s figure it out. We believe that we learned a lot along the way and what you needed and stuff. But I’ve always really appreciated how seriously you’ve taken the vocational aspect of it. And there’s a lot of schools that have like kind of programs like this. But what I was kind of curious about too, you said earlier, you were a math teacher, and then you worked your way into being the tech director. Was it just like you knew more about technology than the English teacher? Or how did that progress? How would that work?


  • Mark:

Yes, I’ve been in a couple of schools before Eastbrook. And I would say we were like at the dawn of technology in the classroom, you know, when I started in 2005, when I started teaching. So I mean, I know tech was around before that. But as far as smart boards were just coming out in different, you know, devices that kids would respond to getting into the computer lab. So there was like, everywhere I went, I was trying to get my hands on whatever technology, the school had. And when I moved to Eastbrook, they actually were pretty limited in what they had. Technology wise, as far as lots of people were still using overhead projectors and things like that, we got a couple smart boards. And what it really started out was is when we went one to one, there was a big push from the teachers and sort of other schools were doing at the time, which was to put integration people in place. So find teachers who knew how to use technology, but were also from the classroom perspective, and put them in places where they could lead. So I actually did not want to leave the classroom at the time. So I did a half I bargained for a half time gig. So I taught three periods a day, and then did integration the other half. And then in the middle of that. That time I the tech director left and that’s when I got approached to move into that room. So I think some of it was knowing a little bit about how to use technology. I was not a tech guru, but I knew how to use it in the classroom. And then I had been in some leadership roles in other buildings and things. So a sort of, there was a focus we had a managed service provider at the time and we still do so the heavy tech lifting is being done by someone else anyways, and they were looking for someone to lead technology in the district who had an educational perspective.


  • Zack:

Yeah, and it seems like that’s a big move that I’m seeing like across kind of the United States of these, these leadership roles. It’s not always the person who has the most you know, networking experience or you know, coding experience. But really finding like Alright, we got a teacher, we can send them to additional training, but someone who knows how to speak, you know, bridging that gap between the high end tech people and then also, you know, down to the down to the teachers and the students, you know, making like really good educational based decisions not just based on convenience, but based on what’s going to be the best overall for the district.


  • Mark:

I feel like the teachers’ voice in some of those decisions, because it may not teachers can’t attend all of those particular decisions that are being made in a district, but to know that you’re viewing it not just from a technical perspective. But with that, how does this impact the classroom? How does this impact student learning? And what does it do for teachers? Is it a helpful piece? So I think it ties into what you said about the repair class itself was the educational side of that was, you know, as I mentioned, before, that first time, it was really just necessity, like we would ship out 30 devices, and we might not see them for six weeks. It was something simple that we could fix in house, but we only had one IT guy, and he couldn’t possibly do all those repairs. So we started training students that were TA’s essentially. And then we got further down the process and was like, we could, you know, we can make this a class, we can get credit, kids can learn skills. And so not only does it benefit us, but it gave us this great workplace environment. And we have… I suppose her technical term is secretary/ help desk secretary and what she does all sorts of things. And that’s Jamie. And she takes that part of it very serious. The kids know she works with them. On a workplace environment, what does it mean to how do you answer a phone? How do you go into a classroom? How do you respond to someone? So yeah, they can tear apart a Chromebook much better than I can replace parts. But she’s also focusing on that. That workplace skill, because when they when they enter the workforce, it’s not going to it’s going to be something else that they can tear apart and fix that’s always going to change but that that human interaction and communication piece is going to be there.


  • Zack:

Yeah, that’s it. That’s a good point. And I was just on a call with I don’t know, there’s probably 10 or 10, directors on the last call, I was just on and they were I talked a little bit about repair class support. And you know, when we first started, this with you guys it went so well, it was like, Oh, yeah, any school can do this, you know, every school has got the ability. And then as we launched, we launched into probably 15 schools, and some were more successful, some are less successful. And what we noticed the schools where it was successful was is they had somebody that cared about the program, and was there all day, every day. What we saw is the programs that didn’t perform very well, were the ones where it was probably maybe sometimes the tech director would be in there an hour or two a day. And then the students were kind of left to their own devices. And, you know, you got high school kids, some are really good. But ultimately, if they’re, if they have the ability to goof around, that’s what they’re gonna do. So I mean, I can’t speak highly enough about, you know, a higher level of just leadership than Jamie has with that class. And, you know, she’s like, great with the kids, but she also can drop the hammer, if they’re messing around, or they’re not getting stuff done. And it’s been a pleasure to work with her. And that’s something I want to come out of this call is this, this is gonna be made successful by the school. The way we’ve kind of supported you guys is we’re on site once or twice a month, all day to train students on kind of some of the harder we call them tier two, tier three repairs. But ultimately, that’s not enough oversight. Now schools can say, hey, like, we want you to be here every day, we can support with full time technicians. But ultimately, that’s just a whole nother, you know, a whole nother, like, add on SKU for us with a school. But most schools are like, hey, I want to use our current class structure and everything to do that. And really, I can’t say enough, if you don’t have somebody that’s passionate about it and overseeing it all day, it’s going to be really difficult for it to be successful. And, you know, kind of what I wanted to hear from you on that is, you know, starting out, you’ve got the curriculum, you’ve got the class. Could you talk through a little bit of maybe some of the challenges with that, and then kind of how you adapted over the years of like, Oh, we maybe if we did have students like not disciplinary actions, per se, but I know that you’re pretty selective on what students you allow into the program. And if you can elaborate a little bit on that.


  • Mark:

Yes, we would do interviews. Well, I guess first of all, like, structure wise for us, is that we tend to have at most a couple of kids, we’ve had three kids one period. So it’s not a class of 15 kids. We have kids all day long. We usually try to avoid lunchtime just to free us up in that regard. But we’ve got like I said, no more than two kids at a time, which helps. And then we do an interview process. Like we just finished up a couple interviews for next school year. And the biggest thing that we look for is trustworthiness. And that’s actually what we ask the most. We actually reach out to teachers which probably tells us more than the interview itself. And Jamie always her example always is can I trust this kid to carry my purse across the building, and know that nothing’s going to happen to it? And so that tells us a couple of things. One that being in an environment they’re in, there is all kinds of stuff, people walk in and describe the problem, they open up a student device, and they might see something they’re not supposed to see. And we have to trust that they’re going to be able to interact in those environments and not carry that outside of technology. So we have to trust that they’re not going to be an issue there. And I think of the six years having gone on, we’ve had one kid that we had a problem with more than once, and we had to ask him to leave. But it’s not been a not been a major issue for us. So actual technical ability. We don’t, we don’t necessarily search for that. Grade wise, I would say we’re all over the map in the sense that, you know, we have some kids who are honor roll, straight A students, and then we’ve got a handful of kids that school isn’t their most favorite thing. And in fact, probably the best part of their day is coming to technology, because that’s where they get to kind of freelance a little bit and take a break from the day. So that A grades aren’t necessarily a big factor for us either. But we do want trustworthiness and want to make sure that they’re engaged. And usually when we get a student, they stay with us, unless they’re scheduled, just absolutely as they get to junior or senior prohibits them because of other classes they got to take. But we have a lot of kids who start and then just stay with it for four years.


  • Zack:

Yeah, that’s a really good point. And for the people listening, if you’re thinking about starting one of these classes, you can’t think of it… you almost need to think of it like a small business more than a class. Because just kind of like what he said, the interview process, every school that’s been successful, the interview process, I had one of my schools, they used it kind of like a dumping ground for they have got a couple free periods, we’re going to send you here. I can say with relative confidence, you probably want to keep your higher grades, the better. We had one school that used some middle school students and you know, parts would go missing, you know, all sorts of different things. So there definitely… there’s a maturity factor there and, and just another thing you said I want to, like, you know, harp on too is grades really don’t matter. I remember going through school myself, I’m a very like, mechanically minded person, you know, I grew up like I worked on my cars, you know, four wheelers and stuff like that. And I really struggled in school, you know, I got okay, grades in high school and stuff, but no one would call me like an elite student. But if there was something like this that existed, I feel like that would have been kind of like a safe harbor for me. Being able to, you know, not feel like that’s the only way you’re graded on is your capabilities in the classroom. But ultimately, you know, that technology like hands on experience, and knowledge has value as well, which, which I really like, and it honestly is a really big passion of mine is vocational skills in general.


  • Mark:

And the kids, the kids do get to do that as a partnership with you guys. Their exposure, it goes beyond Chromebooks, you know, whoever’s we’ve had a couple different people that work with our kids. But whether it’s bringing in an Xbox or a PlayStation, or raspberry pie, phones, MacBook, you know, they get to tear down some of these things that they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to. And the biggest thing that we’ve seen from that isn’t so much that like, kids are not experts on tearing apart a screen. But then the next thing we know, kids are like, Hey, could I use you know, some tools today and tear apart my uncle’s phone, I’m gonna try to replace the battery of the screen and stuff that they may not have had the confidence to even try before. Now it’s like they’ve seen it done, I got a chance to do it once. And now they’re, you know, moving on. And so we had one year we gave toolkits to the kids. And we had a couple of kids reply to us, you know, a year later and now they got their little small not like a full fledged business. But yeah, they replace multiple, you know, help people out friends out family out. So it’s, yeah, a vocational piece that they can take with them.


  • Zack:

Yeah, I love that. And, you know, I was curious, and you might not know off the top of your head, you know, if you’re staying in contact with some of these students, do you have any, like, success stories of like, kids going into the tech world after they’ve been through this class? I know, it’s still newer, you know, last six years or so. But I was kind of curious, you know, have you seen any sort of specific trajectory that they’ve been more prepared for because of this?


  • Mark:

Yeah, I wouldn’t say we have any good data on that. I know, we have, you know, one kid went to be an electrical engineer. We have one student who’s working for the Department of Defense. I believe. Those are really cool stuff. So I don’t know that this class led them in that direction. But you know, kids do tell us that they’re interested in pursuing down the road, a technical aspect. We actually have one student right now who’s trying to decide if they want to come back as a junior. And one of the things that he is trying to he’s trying to convince this person of his that he really does want to do something technical after school, you know whether he goes to the degree or not. So he thinks this class will continue to prepare him for that future.


  • Zack:

Yeah, I mean, we hired a couple when we, when our main office was still in Muncie, you know, we hired a couple of the Eastbrook students to help us over the summer. And that that is ultimately the goal, as we expand, and unfortunately, there’s some schools, they’re just not close enough for it to make sense for them to, you know, drive an hour to the warehouse. But it was great, because they had that basic level knowledge. They knew how to work in an environment. You know, they’re not so green compared to some other you know, students and, you know, Mike Hotseller. Do you know Mike at all?


  • Mark:

We’re gonna meet him here. Next week.


  • Zack:

Yeah. So Mike came from Beech Grove schools through the repair class support program. And then I hired him, he went to Ball State, I hired him, my stores, my repair stores. And then now he’s like, full time, and his dream has been to run the repair class support program–super, man, unbelievable employee. He is gonna do unbelievably well, by you guys. And it’s good for Mike, you know, he’s moving up into a management position, it makes a lot of sense for him in his career. And our goal, Mike seems like he’s gonna be there to stay. And I’m really, really kind of excited that but that’s kind of like, the stories I’m looking for. And I kind of live off of is, like, students went through this program, you know, ran by you or Jamie, and they’re better for it. You know, that and that and that’s what we’re, that’s ultimately why we’re doing all this in the long run. And that’s what I love so much. You know, you know, outside of that, you know, repair class support and stuff I remembered you kind of talking about it’s not even just the break/fix. I… you…. didn’t you have like a little like team of students that would actually go to classrooms and help troubleshoot some issues at one point?


  • Mark:

Yes. So we don’t have, we don’t have anything official and some of that changes based on the kids we have. But we definitely utilize the kids to help us go take care of small issues in the classroom, whether that’s, you know, a projector can’t display or something’s wrong, and I can’t go out and help subs get going in the morning. And some of that also changes by the amount of repairs we have. So the last two years being in the fourth year of the device, and then this year, the wild card year, you know, we have a lot of devices to repair. So I would anticipate next year when we don’t have as many repairs to do that we’ll find other things for kids to do and maybe fall back into that a little bit. But we we’ve done some training with them each year where our on site tech will show kids like how to make cables and not that we’re asking them to go out and make Ethernet cables for us. But we will take them down to our cafeteria where we’ve got a mounted projector and a screen and just walk them through like Alright, let’s connect a chromebook. Let’s connect the phone. Let’s connect the MacBook, let’s connect a Windows device. If you run into this problem, how do you troubleshoot? So they go through that process to try to help learn some of those things. And we do utilize them.


  • Zack:

Yeah, and that’s kind of one thing I did want to talk to you specifically, I’ve talked to a couple of tech directors and stuff where they’re like, I don’t even know, this seems like a lot of work to get started. And I don’t think it’s fear of they’re lazy, I think it’s more fear of they don’t want to start something and not see it through all the way or they maybe they don’t think they have the right tools to be able to do it properly. But I think ultimately what I’ve seen from the schools that have said, You know what, this is going to be our priority. It’s drastically taken off a lot of work and stress off of those people after the first year or two when they have the program up and running. And that’s what I love is like how many times you get a call like hey, like my projector doesn’t work, like, you know, really simple issues where you would have to, in the middle of your day, go and do a quick 15 minute, 30 minute when you can send a student you’ve just saved that time. But you are right. You know, it’s kind of dependent on the student’s capabilities as well.


  • Mark:

We’ve got 12 kids right now. So we’ve got 12 walking IT students in the school. Right. So like, if something’s not working in a classroom, they may not even call us because that kid’s in that room and handles that situation we don’t even know.


  • Zack:

Yeah, that’s a really great point. I love that.


  • Mark:

And as far as your comment about, so like this time around, of course, as you know, we still haven’t gotten our new devices. But you know, we had gone through this four year contract with you guys. And as we were putting the pieces together for this next cycle, you know, I had to be had to present to my superintendent to the board about costs and what it looks like. And it was you know, this idea cuz I would get some neighboring schools who just do the depot piece where they stack them up and whether it’s you or someone else comes in, picks them up and they drop the old ones, you know the new repaired ones off and then costs sound like this is a huge cost saving piece. But you know, as we presented it was, if we’re going to spend money and invest it to maintain and repair these devices, we might as well invest in your kids at the same time. Yeah. So it’s like whether it’s X number of dollars to do this, and it’s X number of dollars plus 10%. If we go this route, well, regardless, unless that cost is like, the gap is huge, why not invest in our kids. And then we get these other returns, like you’re mentioning here, where kids are helping staff. We’ve utilized them in the summers to help us. We’ve utilized them the first day before school starts with just staff in the building, and they run around, like, there’s three of us that we can’t possibly be in every building, and every situation and the kids are there, and they just help teachers do little things. So the idea that we’re not just… to us, the one to one project is is student based beginning to end. Because they’re part of how they help us pick the device, we get their input. We use those kids to demo devices, when we looked at it this time around. And then they’re the ones that unbox them, they label them, they tag them, they help distribute them, they help collect them, and they help repair them. And then the kids use them. So from beginning to end, the kids are a part of that process. And we just we love having the partnership with you guys to help us out with the parts and the pieces that we can’t put together. So we still have that, you know, investment or layout of resources to you guys, but the kids are helping us on our you know, on the school side.


  • Zack:

Yeah. I love that. I think this is like a really good like overview of what the program looks like kind of like start to finish and the benefits of doing that. Also, some real things that you have to you know, I think sometimes people kind of get the stars in their eyes, like oh, this is gonna look great if we can get this going. But ultimately, you do have to have certain tools in place for it to be successful, and that’s important. Well, thanks so much for being on this episode. I love your expertise. And I love working with your guys’ school and I really appreciate your time.

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