Speech to the Mercer Island School District School Board, June 11, 2008

The Mercer Island School District is faced with budget cuts at the same time it is preparing to spend $7 million of tax payers' dollars on a 4 year Technology Levy. One of the options on the budget cut list was to eliminate one of the Technology Specialists at the elementary level and have two people cover three schools on the Island. (Full disclosure: I worked as the Tech Specialist at one of the elementary schools affected by this potential position cut). I thought it was a bad idea, so I went to speak to the School Board about it during the open forum of a regularly scheduled meeting.

I'm Josh Burker, and I have been the Technology Specialist at Lakeridge Elementary since 2003. Before that I was the Technology Specialist at Islander Middle School from 1998 until 2000.

As Lakeridge's Tech Specialist I brought innovation and a systematic approach to managing computers to the district. I am proactive, not reactive and I have created systems that facilitate the management of the computers on campus. I serve as an important resource for the other Tech Specialists in the district. I am also an invaluable resource for teachers and students. I provided training for teachers on such innovative uses of technology as podcasting, Google Earth, and other fun, engaging projects. I started a Tech Club for students in third, fourth, and fifth grades and as I earned my Master's degree last year I transformed Tech Club into a more inclusive place for girls and students on the Autism Spectrum. As Dr. Zhao noted, it is in clubs like these where the exciting projects in education are occurring.

You would think that I would be the person you would want in the district as you gear up to spend $7 million and introduce interactive white boards into the classrooms across the district. But I am leaving the Mercer Island School District for a job in Connecticut. Simply stated, there are no roles for a technology leader in this district. Although I reached out to many teachers this year in an attempt to better integrate technology into the curriculum, my efforts were mostly rebuffed because teachers in this district already have so much on their plates. I tried to teach other Tech Specialists and the Network Administrator how they, too, might take a proactive and not a reactive approach to managing technology but was told by some of these people that they did not want to learn something new, a pathetic sentiment in an education environment.

While I have nothing to gain from it, the reason why I am here this evening is because one of the areas where the district is looking to make budget cuts is to eliminate the Tech Specialists at West Mercer and Lakeridge Elementaries and fill the role with a single person. This is a stupid plan. Why, as the district prepares to spend $7 million of tax payers' dollars, are they eliminating the individual who is going to be instrumental in ensuring the equipment purchased with levy dollars is working? Why is the district going to eliminate the person who supports the teachers in their use of new technologies and makes them comfortable enough to try new things? Why is the district going to eliminate the person who might create the next Tech Club, or make a vital connection with an Autistic student who is interested in movie making? Without a full-time, on-site Tech Specialists, connections like the one I made with David, who just helped make a wonderful stop-motion movie, simply cannot and will not occur. Since the district's Technology department refuses to treat the computers as a system and instead deals with them reactively, one by one, there is simply no way that a single person can manage two sites.

Before you go wasting $7 million of taxpayers' dollars, I ask you as the Mercer Island School Board to reject this foolish plan to eliminate an elementary school Technology Specialist: it will hurt the school, the students, and the faculty.

Long of the short, they cut the position. Foolishness.

Responsible Mercer Island residents should ask the School Board why they cut this position so vital to the success of technology in the schools.


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