New Tech Chief Hired

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Also Schoolpower fundraising earns ‘A’ grades

Drawing from applicants nationwide who went through several rounds of interviews before a district-wide panel, school board members unanimously approved hiring a new technology director Tuesday who is currently employed at Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

Michael Morrison, a technology specialist at the south country district since 1996 and technology director there since 2006, was hired Tuesday as chief technology officer at a $152,000 base salary. A benefits package that can add $20,000 to an administrative employee’s pay has not yet been selected.  Morrison expects to start in early March, he said in a phone interview.

Morrison said he applied for the job because of the district’s strong financial and community support and push to modernize its technological capabilities. He sees a need for more change that goes beyond new software.

“The (technological) environments that Laguna has right now are pretty rich,” said Morrison, referring to online sites such as Haiku Learning and Google Dots where students are encouraged to collaborate.  “What I’ve noticed is that our classrooms haven’t changed within the last 100 years. One of the things I would want to do is rethink what the physical space might look like that would support that collaboration and there’s some technology components to that.”

Morrison went through three rounds of interviews conducted by a panel consisting of administrators, teachers, staff, parents and support group such as PTA, said school district human resources director Leisa Winston.

The new tech chief was hired because of his expertise in technology as well as teaching, Winston said. A factor in his favor was his knowledge of the new state learning standards, called the Common Core, that are currently being implemented, she said.  The new standards are computer-centered and heavily rely on online learning, researching, technical writing, collaboration and presentation.

Morrison, who started teaching in Claremont in 1989, participated in implementing the Common Core program at Saddleback and contributed to the Door to the Core program, which explains how technology is required to make the new academic standards effective.  At Saddleback, Morrison received an annual salary with benefits of $154,645.

“What we were really looking for was flexibility in thinking,” said Winston.  “As we know, it’s (state educational standards)

Schoolpower's annual gift to the school district benefits students like eighth-grader Sterling Butler, able to enjoy electives such as foreign language taught by Thurston Middle School’s David Dixon.
Schoolpower’s annual gift to the school district benefits students like eighth-grader Sterling Butler, able to enjoy electives such as foreign language taught by Thurston Middle School’s David Dixon.

an ever-changing process.  Next year, or two years down the road, if they change the assessments again, we have somebody who can roll with that and really understands the philosophy, not just the specific technology tool, but really has a broader understanding of the process.”

Morrison replaces Sean Colt, who resigned after only five months on the job to return to northern California, where his wife works, according to a district spokesperson. Colt replaced Victor Guthrie, the district’s eight-year technology expert, left to take a higher-paying position as technology director in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The school board also accepted two checks from a volunteer fund-raising arm, Schoolpower, for  $150,000 and $71,362. Schoolpower has supplemented the district’s income for more than 20 years.

The first amount is the first installment of two, a $300,000 infusion incorporated in the district’s budget. The money was designated to upgrade the district’s computer technology capabilities.

So far this year, Schoolpower’s Community Campaign has raised $460,000 from 775 donors, an unprecedented number of contributors, up 24 percent, that resulted from calling every family in the district, said Lynn Gregory, Schoolpower’s volunteer president.

The second amount of $71,362 represents donations a specified school program, grade level, department, sports team, PTA or individual teacher grants, said Gregory.  Teacher-grant  application deadline is March 5 and grants will be distributed in May.

A separate gift of $30,000 was donated by the Hexberg Family Foundation and was used for improvements at the high school’s gym.

Due to its consistency, the money from Schoolpower was approved by the California Department of Education as an official line item on the school district’s fiscal budget.

Raising the final installment of $150,000 will be completed in the next few months, Gregory said.



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