California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 36, No. 3
April-May, 1996

"This is Tom Killen calling from the White House"

Perry Polk, Mt. Diablo Unified School District

NetDay96: How do you organize something that you can't touch or feel?

Our efforts to support NetDay96 got underway in early January, assisted in no small part by Warren Williams' article in The Databus. We formed a coordinating committee to try to corral the necessary staff support, to help organize volunteers, and to provide some guidance. Our superintendent had two rules for us: first, the projects were not to cost the district budgets any extra money; second, NetDay-related personnel costs were to be kept to a minimum.

The committee set about to work with volunteer groups. As you recall, it was not until January 22 that we had access to the NetDay Web Page where people were to register their sites and resource contributions. We knew we had a project at Ygnacio Valley High because the NetDay Champion for the school had already been in contact with the district's Maintenance and Operations department, the Curriculum and Instruction department and Data Processing.

On January 22 (excluding that one school) we had something on the order of seven volunteers for seven schools out of 41. By February 5, we were up to ten volunteers for seven schools. Our committee met and developed a strategy. Our County Office of Education was not planning to encourage their districts to have NetDay activities. Instead, they suggested that March 9 was to be spent on a training conference to encourage volunteers and schools alike to develop a solid plan for schools. On the other hand, we at Mt. Diablo had a big project that was already underway. We decided that Mt. Diablo would go our own way and targeted our own district planning conference for February 24.

We attended the State NetDay Workshop and fortunately heard both John Gage and Michael Kaufman. They did an excellent job in explaining the concept, whipping up interest and explaining both the motivation and future plan. Frankly, I was shocked to find that the venture was not altruistic but clearly political. I should have known after my years as an elected official that "everything" is political, but I confess I thought this idea was pure.

I interpreted John Gage's objective to wire schools to obtain the perceived benefits of access to the Internet (I'll let educators argue the merits of the technology in the classroom.) In addition to that, however, another of his objectives was to create an information network so that data, true or not, accurate or not, and without any interpretation by "the education bureaucrats," could be made available to anyone and everyone. He claimed that finally for the first time people will know everything they want to know about schools. He also said that his children attend schools in Berkeley, and he had never and would never attend a school board meeting as he sees the structure of education superfluous and inefficient. He believed that the interaction only at the school site level is necessary for effective education of children.

Although I stated that this was my interpretation of what he said, others indicated that they heard the same message. To say the least, my personal interest in NetDay was somewhat lessened by knowing that I was participating in a project that was intended to subvert the process to which I have dedicated part of my life.

Also, John and Michael could think of more ways to keep you busy than you have ever thought of. My reaction was a simple one: "I already have a full time job that I can't keep up with." Another reaction which put me into a slow steam was "Where were you guys when we were going through our huge budget cuts five and six years ago?" We needed corporate support for improving education in California so we could produce better workers, but it seemed that that was not a fashionable idea then--or now.

Now back to NetDay. Our committee set up a tracking system so we could find out about the level of volunteering for our schools. As you know, the process is very painful if you have a lot of schools. No totals by school were available and there was no way to know who was newly added to the Internet signup. We also began earnest work on the Planning Conference. We sent out invitations to all volunteers via e-mail and to our school site technology coordinators, principals and other faculty. Each of the committee members had a role to play. Unfortunately, coordinating was a chore as we all lead busy lives and meeting time was hard to come by.

February 24 came and we had 57 people at our conference. The crowd was equally divided between volunteers and staff. It was a good day. We started by discussing the need for a technology plan for each site and the importance that the NetDay project be consistent with the tech plan. Our District Technology Coordinator, Mac Carey, talked about the importance of consistency and standard setting from our perspective. We had a section on organizing a NetDay activity. Our M&O department representative talked about construction standards, campus security, safety and environmental issues, e.g., asbestos. We then talked about networking, cabling and accessing the Internet, and the importance of testing, inspection and "as built" drawings. Finally, we had a section on hospitality, public relations and risk management. The day was a success, and we put most of our handouts on the MDUSD Home Page under Technology Center. (http://mdusd.cccoe.k12.ca.us).

So here we were at two weeks out, once again excluding Ygnacio Valley High, and we had only five sponsors for five campuses, 47 volunteers for 29 campuses and four organizers for four campuses. This is not a good base for many NetDay projects in a district our size. As you recall, about this time the intense publicity began throughout California concerning NetDay. Sun Microsystems had a big test project at a school in East Palo Alto which got nationwide attention. The airwaves and newspapers in our large market were getting daily press releases.

We had planned to have a conference "post mortem" on Thursday, February 29. I showed up but none of my committee did, so I walked back to my office knowing that I had a full desk of work on at least a thousand projects. Then the phone rang at 3:30PM.

I answered "This is Perry," my usual greeting. The voice on the other end said, "This is Tom Killen calling from the White House. I just want to let you know that the President and Vice President may be visiting your Ygnacio Valley High School on NetDay. This is just a "heads-up" for you." I said, "Okay, we'll take care of them." That was it! He hung up, so naturally I made a beeline for the Superintendent's Office. He was in a Superintendent's Council meeting, but I told his secretary about the call and she said she would get back to me shortly.

A few minutes later, she said for me to come to the Superintendent's office. I went in. He said to close the door, have a seat and continued, "Now tell me about this phone call." I did, and he said, "So much for security." It seems that the previous afternoon the County Office of Education had been contacted. They in turn recommended Ygnacio Valley High in Concord and put the White House in contact with my Superintendent. He agreed that the site was a good one as campus security was controllable there and they had had a pre-election campaign appearance by Vice President Bush in 1988. We didn't know if this was a "go" or not.

Friday was an interesting day. The NetDay Champion for the campus visited me with a problem. He had a major issue with one of his sponsors over a deliverable. Frankly, I once had a problem with this particular vendor. We discussed a strategy, and he left planning to execute the plan. I, of course, was aware of the potential visit but it appeared that he was not. I certainly was not planning to tell him and put even more pressure on him over the weekend. By the way, Charlie (the NetDay Champion) and I had gotten to know each other quite well as he was a member of the District NetDay Coordinating Committee and we had both attended the NetDay96 CEDPA SIG meeting in San Jose. We spent many hours of highway time together.

On Monday morning I got a call from him reporting what he had done. He had completely changed our strategy. I thought this was odd but his new approach was consistent with his personality and was worth a chance. Later that day, I got a call from a member of the Presidential Advance Party inviting me to a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the visit of the President and Vice President to the school. It sounded serious to me. Charlie called a short time later and asked what I was going to do at ten o'clock Tuesday morning. I told him that I was going to be at his school in a meeting. He said that he wanted to make sure I knew about it. I guess he had learned about the Presidential visit that Monday morning. It certainly made his response to the vendor make sense.

We met with a team from the Presidential Re-election Committee. It turns out that whenever the President visits a state within six weeks of a Primary Election, the visit must be paid for by the Re-election Committee. We met a local person who was to handle the press, three Washington based people who were to handle the press and plan the entire trip and two White House Communications people. I recognized their hair cuts and sure enough they were Army personnel assigned to the White House Communications detail. I had a friend in my past life who did that, so I had some basis for my guess. Interestingly, the Secret Service was missing. It turns out that they were having a meeting at the same time with the Concord City Police.

After a conversation about what these planners wanted to do, we all adjourned to a tour of the campus and to see and experience the physical work place and NetDay job to be done. These people knew nothing about our business, so we needed to explain what NetDay was all about, why it was important to schools, what the benefits were to education, what it means to "wire" a school, why the job was complicated, how to open a computer, why we needed to put special cards in the computer, how we connected to the Internet, why Internet access was important, and other related issues. We walked the whole job site and talked about who would be working where. Of course, when you have a number of adults in business suits walking a campus looking "official," the students really get curious. The Re-election personnel mentioned what the visit was all about and the news traveled quickly. The school administration knew all about the visit and was part of the planning with both this group and the Secret Service.

Late in the meeting and before we took the tour, we were joined by a person from Sun Microsystems. He accompanied us on the tour. As we moved from one place to the next, he began to suggest alternatives and changes in the schedule of events. At one point when Charlie was explaining the fiber backbone wiring, the Sun representative suggested that "we really ought to have that part finished before NetDay as it was key to going on-line for the building the President was going to work in." I could see Charlie begin a slow steam. After a bit, he lost his temper, saying something to the effect that he had been working on this project since before Christmas and it was a little late for someone to walk in five days before the event and begin telling what ought to be done.

We proceeded to the Library where just the day before the ISDN line worked for the first time. As you all know, Pacific Bell does it right the first time. Not! We saw the CUSEEME operation over the ISDN line, and we learned that the President was to connect with Secretary of Commerce Brown and Secretary of Education Riley over the Internet on NetDay as they would be in California awaiting his connection. The Sun representative said that this arrangement (the ISDN circuit) was just too slow and jerky and what we needed was a full T-1 and a better video delivery. I pointed out that the last cable pair on the entire campus was used for the ISDN line, and if anything was to be added to the campus it had to come from the street and we certainly didn't have the money to pay for that project.

The school library was to have virtually all of its furniture removed so that a wide screen video operation could be set up for the press. Other talk was about a series of large screen computer monitors for various people to use. I once again explained that none of this was available in the school or in the district and that we couldn't afford to buy it. The planning was proceeding with grand ideas which were well outside of the reality schools operate within.

The tour broke up a few minutes later and all parties agreed that we would meet again on Thursday at ten, just two days before NetDay. By then the planning party would have the President's itinerary fully outlined, and we would also have the input from the Secret Service.

As each day passed, the number of volunteers for our schools grew. On Wednesday before NetDay, we had six sponsors for six campuses, 88 volunteers for 31 campuses and seven organizers for seven campuses. The problem we faced was simply "too many, too late" for planning to take place. We had narrowed the work down to two high schools where work would be done and two more high schools where planning would be done on NetDay. Other campuses were getting close to being ready but they clearly could not go on NetDay. The last minute volunteers were especially ready to work, but it was just too late for any preparation. I directed some of them to the Champion at Ygnacio Valley. The worst of our dreams were beginning to take shape. Except for Ygnacio Valley High, it looked like a great opportunity to make all of us in education look badly.

On Thursday morning at 6:30AM, I called Charlie about the volunteer situation. He broke the news to me that the Secret Service told him that he had too many volunteers for them to control and he would have to cut the list. He said he would have to cut the list even from the original group.

At the meeting, on Thursday, all of the players in the President's visit were present. We went over the full detail of who, where, what and when. Mac Carey, John McBrearty (the MIS director for the County Office and a former CEDPA director) and I were to be "press volunteers." We were to help explain to the visiting press what NetDay is all about and how this volunteer effort was to help education.

Our Curriculum and Instruction Director had loaned Mac to Charlie to help with logistics. Charlie was the most sought-after person in Concord. He was being bombarded with questions from all sides and with interviews with the press. Heady stuff for a modest cabinetmaker who just had a vision for helping kids.

All of the "big guys" were falling all over themselves to help. "What can we do, how can we help, what do you need?" Sun, Apple, and HP appeared out of nowhere bearing gifts. Software companies appeared with their gifts and demands. Surely, the President will need to work with something better than THAT!

To his credit Charlie made one big statement, "If it comes on this campus, it stays on this campus. If it's good enough for the President, it's good enough for the kids at Ygnacio."

Charlie had received commitments from White Pines Software, a software company, Worldtouch, a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Cygnus, a local systems integrator, back in December. They had been with him the whole way, but now the big guys were muscling in on the show. Raw economic power was being exhibited because the President was coming.

On Friday, the three of us who were to be press volunteers met at the campus to review our "pitch." I arrived just as school was out and stayed on the campus for about an hour. It was the most interesting surreal scene. All of the normal Friday afterschool events were occurring--a baseball game, flag girls practice, loitering and matchmaking. In and among all of these normal events, a stage was being built, walls were being painted, telephone wire was being strung for the press, fences were going up, windows were bring covered, drapery and banners were being hung, sound systems were being tested, etc.

Saturday morning dawned clear after a couple of weeks of off-and-on rain. I picked up Mac at the Pleasant Hill BART station at 6:45AM. We saw long lines of people working their way toward Ygnacio Valley High. Fortunately, we were on the school parking list, so we got right in.

I went over to Charlie Merrill to congratulate him. He said, "You know, Perry, this thing got away from me." We joined the other press volunteers and immediately got assigned to work the press credential desk. The press couldn't enter unless they showed an ID and were on our list. The same entrance was being use by the VIPs. Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman George Miller came through along with our School Board and other dignitaries. The press, ranging from high school reporters to AP/UPI/Fox, came streaming through. We were released from our duties about 9:00AM and found our way to the scene where about 10,000 people awaited the President and Vice President.

The show started shortly after his arrival and our Superintendent welcomed everyone to the district and YV, as the school is affectionately known. Very few people knew that just eight hours before he welcomed the President, our Superintendent's father had passed away in Modesto. It was a bittersweet day.

Everyone made speeches. The President left to shake hands with everyone who could reach him. I, too, got to shake hands with both of them. He went to work--you saw the pictures. He did his thing in the Library and then disappeared. All the crowd left so only the handshaking hopefuls, the press and our crew of volunteers were left waiting and waiting and waiting. It turns out that The Man probably had lunch out of sight.

Finally, about 12:30PM Charlie shouted, "Let"s get to work. Team leaders gather your crews." NetDay began at Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord just like it had been planned three months before.

Perry Polk is the Data Processing Director for Mt. Diablo Unified School District in Concord, CA. He is a former president and director for CEDPA and has served as an elected Councilman for the city of Fairfield, California.

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