Sunday, September 24, 2006

Heartbroken and numb, I place myself at the mercy of the hearing board...

With your indulgence, I would like to take a few moments to introduce myself to you. My name is ---------, and I am a resident of ------, a parent of a current and a graduated ------ Schools student, and Help Desk Technician --------------------- Schools.

I became a resident of -------- when my husband and I decided to relocated here from the --------. The home we had there was comfortable and paid for, but the reputation of the ------- School district, and our concern for the education and safety of our then third grader, ----, made the decision for us, and we purchased a home in ------. His first years in the district was fraught with challenges, and through them all, the staff of the district was kind, supportive and generous with both their time and their efforts on his behalf. During this time, I became acquainted with many ------- employees, beginning in a professional capacity and then in a more personal one. Each person was a person of character, one that I was pleased to know both as a person who gave service to my child and one who I could consider more than just a nodding acquaintance.

When my younger child became a kindergartner, and I was left at home alone, I soon found much satisfaction in volunteering in my son’s kindergarten classroom. The interaction with the students, and the camaraderie I felt with the teacher and the other parent volunteers further cemented my conviction that ------- Schools was the right place for my sons. During this time, I worked extensively with the now defunct -------- Publishing House, developing templates and interviewing aspiring young writers to facilitate “publication” of some of their very first books. I know that the ones that were created by other parents for my own children are things that I will treasure forever; I was very grateful to have been a part of that project.

As my children advanced through the grades at ------- Elementary, the Department of Computer Services was growing exponentially, under the direction of Mr -------. New Apple computers were deployed in the classroom by his tiny staff, and there was no introduction provided to the teachers about the new equipment being placed with prominence in their rooms. As only children can do, when his teacher asked if there was anyone whose parents would be willing to help out with the computers in the classroom, my young son practically leapt from his chair to exclaim, “MY MOM knows how to work computers; she will come in and help!”. It was from that fateful day forward that I was informally performing my current job of “help”….I set up all the machines in the classrooms in his grade, by invitation of the teachers, for easy accessibility for all the children, I wrote reams of documentation on the programs that were installed to help the children, the teachers and other parent volunteers during their now being scheduled “Computer time” in the classrooms. The teachers in my son’s grade level at ------- were ecstatic that the computers were being used and used well. My son’s teacher, in her zeal to share her excitement made contact with --------to let him know how the computers were being used in her classroom. When ------- called me, he requested a meeting with me, in conjunction with ------- and -------; he proposed that he make me a contracted employee in the district to implement these successful strategies district- wide, so in Jan 1996 I became an “official” employee, rather than simply a very enthusiastic volunteer.

The time I spent in the buildings interacting with teachers and students was enriching and educational. The students were intrigued by the presences of a “computer lady”; the girls were particularly impressed that a “girl” could work on computers. As an offshoot of that, I spent several “Career Day” events at --------- Elementary, talking to the young students about working on computers. As a representative of both the technology field and an employee of ---------Schools I took great care in reinforcing the positive messages to both boys and girls that “education is key”, and “you can be anything that you want to be”. I cherish the letters I received from the first graders from the first year I participated; they illustrate the enthusiasm and creativity that thrives in the minds of our youngsters.

When -------- retired from his position as director of the Department of Computer Services, he met with me personally before he left. He expressed his gratitude to me for my contribution to the department and assured me that he would be my advocate in the change over to a new administrator, demonstrating to whomever it may be my value as an employee. When the new administrator arrived, there was a time of acclimation; the new member was young and had many new ideas for the course of the district, technology-wise. These were to be, without question, times of much activity and many challenges; they also had the potential to be times of great personal and professional growth, with opportunities to enhance my skillset as new challenges were sent my way.

Much of my learning was and is done “on the fly”. Training opportunities presented themselves every day as I worked at my job; often a user problem resulted in a discovery of some consequence that I would not have otherwise been provided. I also became more aware of training opportunities that I could avail myself of sponsored by some of the most prominent and necessary technology companies in the world. These technical “cram sessions” were offered during the regular work day, and to facilitate taking advantage of these opportunities, I scheduled vacation time and personal leave time, so as not to cause the district expense. Other seminars and training sessions were not available to me because of financial concerns; I am a single parent with two sons who I would like very much to go to college. If no training dollars are available through district channels, then training paid for from out of pocket is catch as catch can, after the needs of my sons are met.

About four years ago, as the district staff had grown and the demands for support had climbed to epic proportions, the department implemented the position of “Help Desk”. The position, in union terms, comes under the auspices of “AV Tech”, and as such a certain level of technical expertise is required. I was very honored to be offered the position on its creation, and with some trepidation at my qualifications to execute the position well, I took it on, with the same determination to be valuable and successful as I have with every project I undertake. The first year was stressful and difficult, as there were no protocols or practices in place, another "learn as you go" experience. As I began to understand the real value of the help desk position to the district staff, I relished the opportunity to interact with them in this new way, and made every effort to use the position to empower them to 1) feel comfortable in calling with their problems, and 2) empower them to take on some of the small technical challenges on their own.

With much to explore every day as the users shared their problems and concerns, certain trends emerged. I was intrigued with the phenomenon that they were discussing called “blogging”. Several indicated to me that they were creating their own websites and that part of what these websites could do was offer places for people who visit to comment and share information. Not unlike the messageboards and forums, which have been around for a long time, these “blogs” tended to be more personal in nature, and as such were often used as a soapbox for private citizens to make their opinions known in a public venue. Other people were using them as “digital diaries”; a place for them to share their personal lives and experiences, connect with friends and family at a distance, and meet new people from all over the world. My first attempt at blogging occurred in 2003, during the campaign for the school levy. I documented my efforts to support the school district, volunteering at functions to meet the public and present the district face to the very serious funding issue. After the levy passed the blog no longer had a necessity to exist, so with a grateful thank you to the city of -------, that blog was closed down.

Not long after that, MSN Spaces (Microsoft) came online in a beta release. It was the very fledgling stages of Microsoft’s experimentation that will eventually come to fruition soon in the public release of its newest operating system, Windows Vista. The entire concept, which has grown and changed since its inception in December of 2003 was to provide a totally integrated experience for users between the desktop and the internet. MSN Spaces in conjunction with the Microsoft PassPort account, correctly configured, allows the user full access without logging in to all MS sites and those which honor the PassPort credential system. Seeing a learning experience presented in a very real way, I configured my MS Passport account, set up my credentials to allow me access to the technical side of the Microsoft website (Microsoft Technet) and set about the task of learning what potentially could be challenging my users now and in the future.

In the process of learning the mechanics of the Microsoft structure, I was also confronted with the situation of having a “blog” and not knowing exactly what could be done with it. I have always been a private journalist; there are boxes in my home of spiral binders that go far back into my childhood. The soapbox type of blog did not appeal to me; I am not really a person with much of an agenda. The “digital diary” type blog seemed a natural extension of the written journals, and a good way for me to learn about the process as I connected with friends who where far away, and even perhaps make some new acquaintances in this new realm of “social networking”. With nothing more than that as my materials to work with, I jumped feet first into the land of MSN and blogging.

In the span of the year that the first blog was online, I learned a great deal. I enhanced my skillset in the understanding of HTML, I learned the meaning of a great deal of terminology that has enhanced my ability to support my users at the help desk. When asked about an issue regarding things like “tags”, “RSS” and the like, I was able, with the exposure I gained on the MSN site building, to provide guidance and support, based on my own experiences. As more questions came across the desk pertaining to “blogging” specifically and the whys and wherefores of it, I was able to speak to those questions with a level of confidence that I hazard to guess no one else in our department had at that time. I would also say that because of my participation in blogging some of the staff in my department has had much more exposure to the phenomenon than they might have otherwise had.

In the summer of 2005, having progressed along for nearly seven months that year, I had produced a site that I was proud to have my friends visit. An unfortunate set of events started a snowball of recriminations and finally discipline action against me for statements made on this blog, and as a result, the work of all that time was gone in the click of a button, and all the learning done, trivialized as so much waste and foolishness. I was devastated at the developments that had occurred as an offshoot of this action; I was less respected, less trusted, and most of all felt that my credibility was significantly undermined with the people who I would still have to provide service to and work with. Thankfully that was not the case, as the staff members were never aware of the issues that had caused my loss of personal confidence. The cooperation between users and the help desk system continued to grow, and the success of the Help Desk position seemed destined to continue.

After much soul-searching and a time of mourning, I began again to work in MSN Spaces, to create a new, less accessible space to continue my growth with the Microsoft product set. At this time, there were advances in leaps and bounds toward the fully integrated features of the MS suite of online products; there were beta versions of their Messenger client that worked hand in glove with Spaces, which worked in conjunction with their “Expo” marketing site, and then Live Office, which facilitated the fully accessible development of a truly business focused website, and the ownership of one domain name as a beta participant. I claimed my most prized domain name, created my site, and began again to create a new weblog site to be proud of, less personally focused, but available to friends and speaking of my life in slightly less exact terms.

Progress was slow but steady and spurred on by the burgeoning popularity of the blogging phenomenon. I had very little traffic to my site; there was noone to be interested except a very few friends that I had given the information to. I did however over time become acquainted with several individuals of character and talent who happened upon my site and left comments. These people have become fast friends, in more than just an “internet” sense; I would not have their friendship today, had it not been for my presence on the internet, through blogging.

Throughout the time I fleshed out this new site, my entire goal was to share my life with friends. Basically, my life consists of my children and their activities and work. Work is an integral, crucial part of my every day existence; my waking time is spent either at work, facilitating special projects for folks at work from home, or thinking about the things that need to be done. Nearly all of my time is spent in some capacity in the realm of some ------- Schools activity, either work related, or related to the activities that my son participates in as a student at --------- High School. The progression of the website eventually presented me with the opportunity to share the things that I see, as well as what I experience, in photographs. It was with pride that I described the sites that I saw in my community, at school functions, and in my work life. As the site became more professional in appearance and I also began to create other projects for friends of professional quality, I became confident that my work was of merit and offered it to scrutiny of whoever was interested in investigating it. That offer was met with another reprimand, and another demand to AGAIN delete my efforts.

In my anguish it was made clear to me that I was to blame, that there were rules in place that I had violated. In all the recent difficulties I have had, I have had much to ponder. I reflect on the documents that I see daily circulate through the district mail system, regarding people’s businesses, lottery pools, baby showers and jokes galore. If the rules are followed, then these folks should also be called to task. I have been told “You should know better”…perhaps I should. I was under the supposition that almost a decade of loyal and dedicated service to the district both in a voluntary and paid capacity carried some small degree of respect.

My intentions as far as this district are concerned have been and always will be, for the best interests of the public’s trust, and the student and staff’s welfare. My goals for myself have always been to be the most valuable asset that I can be to this district, given the tools that I have to work with. It is with these goals in mind that I approach everything that I do, on the grounds of the district properties, in the supermarkets and stores of the town that we live in and at every event and function that I attend, and proudly declare my affiliation. Perhaps there are areas where I can improve my attentions and conform in a more strict fashion to the mandates of the district bylaws. It is in forums such as this that those things are discussed and decided. Fundamentally, I feel that these corrections being made, my continued contribution to the district can be a valuable one. It is up to the individuals assembled here to decide that.

Thank you for your attention.