Jay Smith, the “innovation architect” for Hall County schools’ technology department, said “it’s all been self-taught.”
His career in the school system started as a parapro for special education. Now he manages an “enterprise-level information technology” system.
Smith said he “kind of grew up in the (school) system” because his mother, Patsy Smith, was a special education teacher and became the district’s special ed director, but that sentiment also could summarize his years in the technology department.
He has “grown up” with the information technology also.
Smith joined the department in 2003 as a technician before the district had technicians for school “clusters” and when the network for computers was in its infancy, compared to today.
He was “part of the first round” of technicians assigned to schools. The school district did not have a centralized user management system.
The district had “really bad viruses” in his early career, he said. That has become less of a problem as “anti-virus” software had become much better.
A virus now might be “much more destructive” and lead to demands for money to release control of a computer.
He moved into a network engineer’s job and now manages much of the department.
He said the school district has one network, but parts of it are segregated. Student data, personnel records and financial records are on separate “networks,” and he does not manage those.
All the district’s computing for students and teachers — and about 20,000 devices — are in his area.
Smith, 37, had no “formal education” for technology.
“A lot of what I do now is research,” he said.
He meant it when he said he grew up in Hall schools. He attended the county schools and graduated from West Hall High School in 1997.
He attended North Georgia College & State University (now the University of North Georgia), studying business. But in 2000, Smith took a job as a parapro, working with a special education student.
He needed a job, he said, and took that one, working with one student. He said the student had bad seizures and was often agitated and angry afterward.
“Part of my job was keeping things in line,” he said. “That taught me so much about patience.”
When the student became too old for the school system, he “was out of a job.”
Smith said he heard rumors about a technology job. He interviewed and told the hiring group he was a fast learner. He got the job.
“I will learn, and I will adapt,” he said. “It was all on-the-job (training) with me.” He has had professional development experiences in the technology department.
Smith added, “This really felt like a hobby to me — more than a job to me.”
He said the technology department now has a 10-gigabyte network. It was a “big deal,” he said, to reach that point.
The schools can distribute TV programming through its network. It receives that over-the-air broadcast at South Hall Middle School and sends it to the central technology office. From there it can be distributed to TVs in every school, he said.
Aaron Turpin, the county’s executive director for technology, said, “Jay Smith has the unique combination of vision without losing attention to detail.”
Smith said, a couple of times, that he typically stays away from public notice.
“I just want to be out of the way,” he said. “I don’t want the technology to ever be a stumbling block (for instruction).”
He added, “Technology can’t do anything on its own. It can’t teach you anything.”