Bob Russell takes helm as schools' tech director

Bob Russell recently returned to Alaska to continue his career pursuits in the technology arena. He started the next leg of his journey on July 2 as the school district's tech director, overseeing all computer equipment, internet connectivity, networking and learning devices.

In short, if it's technology-related, Russell is in charge.

Before coming to Wrangell, Russell and his wife, Kimberly, and Great Pyrenees dog, Yukon, lived in Tennessee. He had lived and worked in Fort Yukon some time before that and wanted to return to Alaska.

Russell took a break from his schedule to talk about his job, the challenges and his goals.

Q: What is your background in tech?

A: Originally, I went to school for history and got a master's in education. I taught for two years in the public school system, and I taught for three years in junior college for students with learning disabilities. I went back to school and got my associate in computer networking, then I started being an instructor at (State University of New York) Adirondack.

Q: What is it about technology that inspired you to make the switch?

A: Back when we were kids, technology wasn't everywhere. So, as we started getting exposed to it, certain people just really enjoyed it. That's kind of what happened to me. I was an EMT for 10 years and did computer repair on the side, that's during the same time I was teaching at the college.

Q: What does the position of tech director entail?

A: Here at Wrangell, it's everything. It's a one-person department. I take care of the administrative side of it, the testing - which is not actually technology-related but ... it's done online - keep all the kids' applications running, keep the internet connection up and operating, keep all the computers and laptops and printers and cabling up and operating.

Q: Has keeping the internet up and running proven to be a challenge in Wrangell with its adverse weather?

A: It hasn't proved to be so far. It's fiber optic cable that comes up out of the ocean. But if anything ever happens to the cable, of course we'll be without internet for a while.

Q: How often are you at the schools troubleshooting problems? What's a typical day like for you?

A: There really is no typical day. I keep my phone with me or I'm in my office by my computer, and if I get an email from somebody I start troubleshooting with them right away. If I need to go over there, that's what I do.

Q: How many students are issued and use iPads?

A: (Kindergarten through fourth grade) uses iPads. Fifth through the seniors use Chromebooks.

Q: What are the challenges with that come with that many pieces of technology in use by students?

A: It's exactly what you'd think it would be (laughs). Especially all the software the students use on the providers' end. So, the people that are building software and distributing it on the web, they may change something and cause an issue, or change something that could cause a need for retraining for people. Or the school may adopt a new program and need retraining for people. Or something physically could happen to (students') devices.

Q: How durable is the equipment when it comes to kids who might be a little rough with it?

A: I don't want to jinx it, but the students have been very, very good at taking care of their equipment.

Q: Do you handle a central server or a network that the schools share?

A: GCI delivers fiber to the high school, and they take care of the fiber link between the high school and this building (school district offices), and then we're responsible for everything else - the interior cabling in both buildings, the wireless access points, we have several servers of our own, but a lot of it's done online.

Q: What's your favorite thing about tech?

A: I like the variety. It's a different problem to solve every day.

Q: What are your long-term goals for your department?

A: When you start out any job, you want it to go smoothly, and that's really what the goal is for the department; I'd like things to start running smoothly for all the people that the department serves. Over the last couple of years, they've switched tech directors, and I'm the third one in two years, I think. The technology is constantly changing. Every time you have to break someone new in, it takes a while.

Q: How do you think your background education has informed and benefitted your position here?

A: It's an understanding of what the teachers are trying to do and the difficulties they have in the classroom, and trying to make it so that they can do their job well, so the students can do better.


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