Larry Padgett | Real School Spirit
GCN IT Leadership Awards 2007 | Padgett's IT vision puts Palm Beach County students at the front of the class
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- May 04, 2007
WPN photo by Scott Wiseman
Building and maintaining the Palm Beach County School District's technology backbone would challenge anyone. It is the 11th-largest school district in the country and the fourth largest in Florida. Palm Beach County is the largest county east of the Mississippi.
Larry Padgett has covered that territory one step at a time, leading the school system to prominence among its peers and, along the way, learning pivotal techniques for structuring technology and withstanding the sometimes hurricane-force winds of educational institution politics, his colleagues say.
'There are two ways of doing projects,' Padgett said. 'One is the big-picture, top-down approach. The other is the grass-roots method, in which you build gradually from the base.'
The favored grass-roots approach, Padgett continued, 'requires more planning, because when you are finished, the two ends of the bridge have to meet in the middle.'
'My philosophy is to use the 'crawl, walk, run' approach,' Padgett said. 'Then, by the time you reach the run phase, and the project is affecting all the students, it has the support of the students and the principals.'
As a result, Palm Beach has the distinction of being the only urban school district in Florida to earn an A rating from the state's Education Department two years running.
Padgett's 17-year career in the district has taken him from the most frontline of frontline jobs ' that of permanent substitute teacher for special education children with specific disabilities ' through a series of technology assignments: task and team leader, technology coordinator, manager, director of network services, network director, and technical services director. He now works as the agency's information technology director.
One of his earliest efforts was the district's first School Board Member Automation Project, which took place during the era of 'high-speed 9,600 baud modems,' said John Inglis, who has worked with Padgett for many years and now is the district's enterprise resource planning system engineer.
Inglis described an incident during which Padgett recognized and used an unexpected opportunity to improve the school district's technology. At the time, IBM had decided to relocate a major facility from Boca Raton, Fla., to the Research Triangle area of North Carolina.
Padgett convinced IBM's leadership to give the school district about 200 PCs their company planned to move to Research Triangle, Inglis said. At the time, Padgett was the technology coordinator for the district's West Area, home of many low-income families.
'This donation helped level the playing field' for the students from those low-income families, Inglis said. 'However, [Padgett] was called on the carpet for this donation because someone in the central office did not get credit for [it]. Larry had not violated any policy or procedure and only acted in the best interests of many disadvantaged students,' Inglis wrote.Into the future
One of Padgett's enduring technical and leadership achievements, according to his colleagues, was to successfully lead the school district's migration away from Novell NetWare to an infrastructure based on Microsoft Active Directory. The move evolved in a 'crawl, walk, run' fashion during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Padgett said.
Padgett said the decision was made because 'it became quite clear to me that [Microsoft Active Directory] was going to be the direction of the future.'
Padgett faced entrenched opposition to his plan for retiring NetWare, according to his colleagues.
'Early on, many were saying that the Microsoft technology was not as strong as NetWare, and it wouldn't work well,' Inglis said. 'I was one of the lead technical staff members and wasn't sure it was technically the right decision, but I followed the vision that Larry so vividly painted and soon many others were following.'
Eventually, the school district started running Active Directory 2000 under the company's sponsorship before its public release. In the process, the district also leapfrogged several Windows releases, Padgett said.
The school district now is running several pilots to evaluate technology for future adoption in schools.
'I listen to my staff' for additional technology guidance, Padgett said. 'For example, if it is a desktop [application], the people who have been working with the problem will know about [the best approaches] first.'
Padgett emphasized the importance of delivering the services that students and schools need. 'You look down when you are walking,' he said of his leadership style. 'We look down and see how we are serving those'we are supposed to serve.'