“Technology really wasn’t something ‘normal’ back when I was in school,” says Kari Rhame Murphy. But today, the same young girl raised in the 1950s Louisiana home of two teacher parents is the chief technology officer of a district that is one of the most highly funded in Texas, thanks to its nearness to the Houston Ship Channel. A former middle school math and computer technology teacher—the latter, at a time when teaching computers was virgin territory—Murphy now instructs the teachers and administrators of Deer Park ISD.
Deer Park ISD is 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston and comprises students from the city of Deer Park and neighboring areas of Baytown and Pasadena. This year—for the seventh time since 2001—the Texas Education Agency accountability ratings system awarded the district a “Recognized” rating, which may have been due in part to Deer Park’s raising its technology bar during Murphy’s tenure. When she first arrived, the district had just passed a bond election for $32 million, and with its considerable financial resources it began installing fiber networking and supplying teachers with new computers. “But pretty much that was the end of it,” says Murphy, of the district that knew it “wanted to get stuff but didn’t know what to do with it once it got it.”
Getting Up to Speed
“There was no instruction or technical staff—only technicians,” she adds. So Murphy hired instructors and created teams that focused on developing a technology curriculum. “We were able to add technology application classes at the high school and put in staff development that was instructionally focused,” she says. Under Murphy’s guidance the district also implemented a teacher requirement for integrating technology into the classrooms, purchased interactive whiteboards and response systems, began a robotics curriculum, and put video and digital cameras in the hands of kids to use for school projects. Says Murphy, “We were giving teachers the tools they could teach with so technology could become a tool and not an add-on.” Superintendent Arnold Adair likes where the district has gone: “Mrs. Murphy deserves credit for directing and driving technology in Deer Park ISD ? whether it concerns the infrastructure, hardware, software, or policies and practices. I am in awe of all she does and the energy with which she does it.”
Acceptable Use Policies
A near-consecutive 24-year attendee of the show, current board member, and former organizer, Murphy was ready when TCEA organizers asked her to present for about the tenth time in February 2010—this time, on districts creating acceptable use policies (AUP). “We are all charged with educating and protecting students, and I think an AUP protects your students and staff from things they don’t know that can hurt them,” says Murphy.
Likening AUPs to the rules of the road, Murphy believes that if everyone understands proper use of the Internet, students will be safer and teachers will be more accountable for their students’ safety.
Murphy wrote her first AUP for Deer Park based on guidelines written in 1994 in the Texas Association of School Boards’ “Starting Points” document, a policy development tool kit that acts like a master template for administrators. How to use a template of a document already written will be among many of her TCEA presentation’s takeaways: “Don’t start from scratch. Borrow somebody else’s, make a general one,” and, she adds, tailor it to your district’s needs while working with your district’s attorney to ensure it aligns with state regulations.
Some of Murphy’s other AUP takeaways? “Include as many stakeholders as possible,” she says. “You’ll never think of everything. ? And include students as well. You’d be amazed by what students say.”