Tech-savvy CUSD staffer receives Excellence award

As integral as computers have become to our daily lives, we often forget the experts who help us navigate this brave new world: technical support staff.

This crucial role was acknowledged at the November 7 school board meeting when Michael Patrick, a desktop support tech with the Claremont Unified School District, was awarded the district’s annual Spotlight on Excellence award.

Mr. Patrick travels to CUSD’s 11 school sites on a rotating schedule—on Wednesday, for instance, he was at Condit Elementary School for much of the day—responding to work orders and trouble-shooting for anyone feeling technologically flummoxed.

Only about 50 percent of Mr. Patrick’s job consists of actually fixing computers. He is far more likely to help guide a teacher or other staff member through a software program or help with some kind of puzzling but solvable user quandary.

“It’s difficult to put a computer on a desk and say, ‘See ya,’” Mr. Patrick said. “People need to have the basic functionality of using computers. I’ve got to get people comfortable with any equipment they have.”

The stereotypical tech support staffer is not a people person, but Mr. Patrick insists that customer service is at the heart of what he does.

“I try and spend the extra time to acquaint people with the equipment we have and the possible uses,” he said. “I’m a hard believer in the saying, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’”

The business of computers has put food on Mr. Patrick’s table for a lifetime. In fact, it’s the only field in which he has ever worked. His first inkling of his future came in 1982 when, as a seventh grader, Mr. Patrick received the computer tutor of the year award at Pioneer Junior High School in Upland for assisting students in the Commodore 64 computer lab.

“It was then I knew I would have a career in technology helping people,” he said.

Beginning in 1991, Mr. Patrick’s father and brother employed him as a computer technician for CompuNet systems. In 1998, he became Upland Unified School District’s first technological employee.

Mr. Patrick moved north for a time, working for the Centennial and North Clackamas school districts in Oregon for two years before accepting a job with the Claremont Unified School District in 2007.

CUSD is a family affair for Mr. Patrick. His wife Sondra works as a para-educator with the district. His daughter, Chelsea, 23, who will graduate this May with a degree in aeronautical management, is a Claremont High School alumna.

“I really enjoy the staff and the students, and the school district is a very clean, safe environment,” Mr. Patrick said. “Everyone always says hi all the time, which is definitely a good thing. I guess you could say Claremont has a small-town feel.”

Mr. Patrick has made a big impact, according to Damon Rapp, CUSD director of technology. Mr. Rapp attributes Mr. Patrick’s winning the Spotlight on Excellence award to his “will-do, can-do” attitude.

“Any time he gets an assignment, he goes and gets it done quickly, no questions asked,” Mr. Rapp said.

This kind of follow-through is crucial for CUSD, given the district’s technology team is smaller compared to other school districts and even more so compared to corporate America. The number of computers in the district has probably grown seven-fold in the past six years, according to Mr. Patrick.

There are now an estimated 3,000 computers in the district and with the implementation of the technology-heavy Common Core form of assessment, that number is rapidly growing.

“There’s definitely large groups of iPads being deployed to the school district in preparation for the Common Core,” Mr. Patrick said.

CUSD’s army of machines is tended by only three desktop support techs.

“We’re significantly understaffed,” Mr. Rapp said. “All of our guys have a workload that’s double to triple of what you would normally see.”

There is always plenty to do, but Mr. Patrick enjoys what he does. He found it a bit surprising to learn that others in the district have taken note of his work.

“I just do my best to increase the technology use in Claremont Unified. I didn’t know everybody enjoyed receiving computers that much,” he said.

While he is pleased to take a quick bow, Mr. Patrick is ready to get back to what he does best, keeping things running smoothly while remaining behind the scenes.

“I always have a motto that it’s best if I’m not around to be seen, because it means everything’s working,” he said. “But don’t forget about me, because you might need me later.”

—Sarah Torribio


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