“Tech Champion” is a full-time job. DPS should make it one.

It’s halfway through second period on September 30, 11 students walked into, and then out of the library. Two of these students came to the library looking for a book, the other nine all had issues with their Chromebooks. Some were easy fixes like handing out the right kind of charger for the different Chromebooks, some had bigger issues that left other students waiting. As Jenna Wine helped the students, she also got a call from a teacher who had issues with a laptop in their classroom. Chances are if you have an issue with your Chromebook you’re getting sent to the Library.

Managing IT and the library is a daily challenge for Riverside’s media coordinators.

Laptop cart and scanner in Riverside’s library. Before COVID teachers would reserve carts for their classroom, now personal Chromebook’s are necessary for class. Photo by Ben Meglin.

This extra work stems from a state-wide shortage of IT personnel. A measly 17 technicians for 54 schools means our media coordinators have to pick up the slack. Wine is currently our only media coordinator, and she has inherited the title ‘Tech Champion’ from Alyssa Putt, whose last day was September 24. Ms. Putt left Riverside for a better position at the State Library of North Carolina. When asked, Putt said, “My heart will always be in schools, but it came to a point where I had to leave for my own mental and physical health.” Riverside has not yet hired someone to replace her. 

Effectively, a Tech Champion is the school’s IT resource that connects the district to the school. Being a Tech Champion comes with a $120 stipend every month. That’s less than $1/hour for tasks that take up nearly all of their time.

“Over 90 percent of my time is [spent on] technology,” Putt said. 

Every day Wine is pulled in multiple directions. Kids walking in with laptop issues, teachers need tech support inside their classrooms. The calls for help arrive in emails, phone calls, and in-person. 

The Librarians have no time during the day to fulfill the duties of their original job. Wine is incapable of doing book talks because she’s so backed up with technical issues. A book talk is a session in the library where Ms. Wine would take some of her current favorite books, then explain what the book is about and compare them to give recommendations.

“Doing a book talk means less time spent on IT,”  Wine said.

The roots of this issue are new. At the start of the 2020 school year, Durham Public Schools (DPS) launched the 1:1 initiative. The goal was for each student to receive a digital learning device between 2020 and 2021. This combined with DPS not hiring any IT positions leads to problems. The district and the schools are overworked because they’re understaffed with too much technology to deal with. 

The title ‘Tech Champion’ is more than just a title and a stipend. A Tech Champion is a whole other job that requires its own position. And if the district had better anticipated what coming back to school would look like our librarians could be librarians again.

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