His office has three laptops, two monitors and an interactive whiteboard, yet Bailey Mitchell still keeps an original Blackberry in a drawer.
It resembles a pager, but he still gets excited remembering how he could send an e-mail on a hand-held device for the first time.
Bailey has been the director of technology in the Forsyth County school system for 16 years, but he’s also a self-described geek at heart, albeit a late-blooming one. It wasn’t until college that Mitchell discovered his passion for technology.
“I really got hooked on the computer part,” he said of taking a computers and science education class. “But I started to lose those geeky attributes when I took on more of a leadership and management role. I will share, quite proudly, that I’m the least techie of probably anyone in this department. I don’t even think I could go toe-to-toe with the [staff] in registration.”
Mitchell will continue his quest next month, when he begins the next chapter of his life as chief academic officer for itslearning, a program he recently helped bring into Forsyth schools.
At 51, Mitchell had thought about retiring after 30 years in education, but “wanted to make sure I had the right kind of opportunity, something I believed in.”
Being able to work with a next-generation learning platform for an international company with international footprints is attractive, he said. “And I didn’t want to lose connections with the people in Forsyth I had been running with for a long time, so it’s just a different level of our relationship.”
The school implemented itslearning at the start of the school year. It replaced the Angel learning management and Edusoft assessment systems.
The new system required training for teachers, parents and students, but has since become a one-stop system for managing everything including grades, homework, scheduling and parent involvement.
“We’re not paperless. We could be,” Mitchell said. “I think with the implementation of itslearning, students are going to lead that charge of being paperless because it’s no longer necessary to have a worksheet that you have to turn in.”
It’s just the latest of many technology advances Forsyth has made since Mitchell began in 1997, the same year the system was wired for Internet access in classrooms.
He fondly recalls what a “big deal” the technology was back then though it was slow by today’s standards. He also remembers the failed attempt that same year to introduce laptops for all middle school students.
“We learned that teachers needed to be fluent first,” he said.
So instead, the money went to equip teachers with laptops, which they planned to make portable using wooden carts staff would build. Staff gathered around for the big unveiling of the first wooden cart, designed to hold 30 laptops, Mitchell recalled.
“They said, ‘Try moving it,’” he said. “You couldn’t move it. It was too heavy, so a little design flaw. But we actually learned from that experience to build carts of 10 ... and very quickly, the industry started building computer carts.
The laptop-to-student project and the wooden carts may have been ideas ahead of their time, but that’s the downfall of being on the front end of change, he said.
“We’ve just always been quick to adopt technology that worked well, and we were always careful over the years to make sure that each school was treated equitably,” he said. “We treat everybody alike and we give the same opportunities to all students.”
Equal opportunity is why staff spent countless hours during the summer of 2005 ensuring every classroom in the county had an interactive whiteboard before the first day of school.
The boards have been a major advancement for the system, but Mitchell said the “credit belongs to the instructional technology specialists” as well as staff from his department.
It’s also the reason the system’s Bring Your Own Technology, or BYOT, program has been so successful, according to Mitchell. Students bring gaming devices, smart phones, tablets and other technology, which is then integrated with lesson plans.
The program needed support at the system level, which Mitchell said it always found.
“[Buster] Evans has been really good [as superintendent] about not only supporting the needed funding ... but also as an outspoken advocate for why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said. “And he’s pretty much a geek himself.
“Me and Dr. Evans have a really good relationship around strategizing, debating and discussing the way that we see the landscape for education changing the role that technology has for what we know will be the next generation classroom.”
Evans credits Mitchell as a vital part of the school system, having been a “key leader” helping Forsyth integrate technology into education. On a personal level, Evans added that he’s known Mitchell for more than 25 years.
“Bailey has been and continues to be a mentor to many technology directors across Georgia and beyond. We will miss the joy that Bailey has brought to our leadership team,” Evans said. “He is the type of colleague that people enjoy working with as he makes work not only productive, but he also makes it fun.”
Mitchell’s wife, Lee, will remain at South Forsyth High School, where she teaches English and language arts. She started with the school system in 1995, when her husband was still the director of instructional technology for the Georgia Department of Education, where he’d been for about four years.
Mitchell first got that job when the Georgia Lottery provided funding for technology in schools. It was monumental, he said.
“It was the first time that many districts in Georgia had received substantial money toward investing in classroom technology,” he said. “When the state, through the lottery, started matching money, it really took off and it helped accelerate everybody’s interest in classroom technology. That’s the first time you’d see schools got wired for Internet access.”
His work with the state took him across Georgia’s 180 school districts, further solidifying his decision to move the family to Forsyth County, where he had done his student teaching while at the University of Georgia.
“This was a county that cared very much about education,” he said. “You could tell just by working with the teachers that was where I wanted my own son to go to school, even back in the day when we were smaller.”
Mitchell starts his new job the day after Halloween, his last with the school system. But he doesn’t plan to leave Forsyth, despite the fact his son is now grown. It’s home, he said.
“And I’ll still be working really closely with the school district, so that part I’m thrilled about,” he said. “But this district is in really good hands. What we have been about, as it relates to technology, will continue, because I think it’s a core belief of everyone in the district ... if I did anything, it’s that it stuck ... and we’ve been able to sustain it.”