Tech changes came with relative cyberspeed
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Dave McGavock jokes that he probably knows the innermost nooks and crannies of all the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 buildings better than anyone.
That’s because he has spent a good part of his 19 years with the district working to connect the network of wires and circuits up in the ceiling spaces and along the floorboards of classrooms, offices and media centers from Glenwood Springs to Basalt.
“I pretty much know where everything is in all the buildings,” said McGavock, who is getting set to retire next month from his job as the school district’s director of technology.
And there’s a good chance he’ll still be getting phone calls and emails asking where some of those things are for a few more months to come.
It was in a roundabout sort of way that McGavock landed in the district’s lead technology position back in 2002.
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He first joined the district in 1994 as a behavior consultant, after having spent his first five years in Glenwood Springs as a student therapist at Yampah Mountain High School.
“My job was to work with parents and kids on finding ways that they could be successful in the classroom,” McGavock said.
While computers were already commonplace in classrooms and administrative offices at the time, the Internet technology age was just starting to take off.
By the late ’90s, McGavock had begun working toward his principal’s license when a conversation with the Garfield County School District Re-2’s then-technology director, Randy Phelps, sparked his interest.
“Randy really inspired me with the idea of technology, and what it could mean for education,” McGavock said.
Around the same time, a $150,000 Mountain Board of Cooperative Education Services grant aided the Roaring Fork district in setting up its first Internet network.
McGavock was put in charge of overseeing the project to install the new 56-kilobyte network.
Rather small by today’s megabyte and gigabyte standards, the district’s first network was enough to run the student services computer system, the front offices of each school and the district office.
It was the beginning of the so-called “net days” in K-12 education, just as it was in most other public and private sector settings.
“A lot of different people were involved in making it all come together in those early days,” McGavock said.
In 1998, Phillip Upton was hired as the school district’s first technology director, while McGavock continued in the project manager role.
“I was always juggling a lot of other side jobs, but Phillip was a true computer geek and he showed up at just the right time,” McGavock said. “Together, we set up a true wide-area telecommunications network for the school district.”
Also about that time, the federal government’s E-Rate program came into being. Funded by a federal tax on phone bills, the program was designed to bring schools and libraries into the technology age.
“That has helped us to fund about 60 to 70 percent of our monthly charges for telecommunications,” McGavock said.
With the district’s first Internet technician (IT) department in place, including Tim Fox and Silla Parker, Re-1’s first Internet-based telephone system was also installed.
But the technology upgrades didn’t happen without some pressure by school districts, Colorado Mountain College and the city of Glenwood Springs to expand telecommunications services in what was still considered a rural area, McGavock said.
Again, McGavock credited a network of people from different organizations, including CMC’s Jim English, who helped Re-1 write its first tech plan, and city of Glenwood broadband director Bob Farmer.
They joined business leaders in convincing service providers that there was enough demand in the area for more telecommunications services.
McGavock officially became the school district’s technology director in 2002.
“I had never envisioned myself in that role,” he said. “I think I was hired more for my administrative and management skills than for technology skills.”
Perhaps more importantly at that time, though, was that the technology push was extending to student learning, as classrooms became more and more connected.
And, with McGavock’s connection to the classroom, he provided a valuable insight on how to use technology in teaching.
With the advent of wireless networks, and as the district embarked on a new round of major school construction projects over the coming years, Re-1 had a golden opportunity to expand its Internet capabilities.
“We were able to do a more commercial-scale installation with the new buildings, and we really entered the true networking world at that point,” McGavock said.
Today, the district has a 50-megabyte network and has increased its Internet speed since McGavock first started by 1,000 times.
It still remains to be seen, and is literally evolving every day, how technology will ultimately impact student learning.
Most schools are now equipped with individual laptop computers, iPads and other mobile technology devices that place the world at the fingertips of students.
But, “We’re really still in our infancy in terms of understanding how we will integrate technology into curriculum,” McGavock said.
“Technology was designed from the beginning to provide thinking tools for people,” he said. “But we haven’t come to the point where it’s fully integrated in the classroom.”
And there’s the reality that the entertainment value of computer technology didn’t escape entrepreneurs or consumers.
“With students, as with all users, the question is whether we’re going to use this technology for entertainment, or are we going to become creators with these things,” McGavock said. “With a computer, you can go down either path.”
For his part, McGavock, 57, said this isn’t “retirement,” so much as it’s an opportunity to expand his own creativity using computer technology.
“I’m still very interested in technology, but I really want to focus and make good choices in using that technology,” he said.
That’s likely to include expanding his passions for writing, photography and filmmaking, McGavock said.
He and his wife, Joani, also plan to do some traveling, especially since there’s a new granddaughter in the family in Louisiana. Their grown daughters, Hannah and Megan, both graduated from Glenwood Springs High School.
Taking McGavock’s place as Roaring Fork Re-1’s new technology director next month will be Jeff Gatlin. He comes from the Woodland Park School District, where he has served as technology director as well as director of operations for the district.
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