Tye Campbell – Gilman School
In March, Tye Campbell went to give a presentation at the FinalsiteU conference in Florida on data integration. No sooner had Campbell arrived when he received notice of a pandemic team meeting back at Gilman School in Maryland. With COVID-19 gaining momentum, a stay-at-home order was likely imminent, meaning the independent school where he worked would have to adopt remote learning—in a week.
Hopping a flight the next afternoon with a colleague, Campbell made it back to Gilman the next morning. The goal was to quickly ramp up a remote-learning IT plan for more than 1,200 staff and students at the PK-12 independent boys’ school, as well as coordinating with its two neighboring sister schools: Roland Park Country School and The Bryn Mawr School.
With spring break the following week, Campbell and his team had seven days to whip everything into shape. It was more than the technology, however, that helped the team succeed.
“Our successful operations hinged upon the interpersonal connections and the positive culture we created,” says Campbell, the school’s director of technology. “It was the crowning achievement—it wouldn’t have happened without it.”
Building a foundation
For more than a century, the mission of Gilman School—named after the first president of Johns Hopkins University—has been to educate boys in mind, body and spirit, producing men of character who have the skills and ability to make a positive contribution to the communities in which they live and work.
When Campbell arrived in 2016, it was apparent the school needed a technological upgrade—not to mention a cultural shift—to create a collaborative working environment between the IT department and the school’s educators.
Some of Campbell’s first initiatives included replacing the aging Wi-Fi and server infrastructure, evaluating and launching a new learning management system (Canvas) and student information system (Veracross), and developing the growth of the school’s new makerspaces and innovation labs, which contained tools like 3D printers, laser cutters and robotics.
Staffing-wise, he reconfigured the team to have a more holistic and collaborative approach. In addition to having two helpdesk staff, he hired a network administrator, and created and filled two roles: an institutional researcher/data analytics director to help the school better leverage data to support key decisions, and an instructional technology coach to help teachers better utilize technology.
“The upgrades in software and personnel not only paid dividends in operations, they’re a key in the school’s ability to keep quality education going in a crisis like this pandemic,” Campbell says.
None of that could have been completed, however, without the support of school leadership and gaining a better understanding of the needs of every department:
- Where its pain points were.
- Which technologies were needed most.
- The best means of facilitating growth.
While the process is still ongoing, he’s heartened to see everyone wanting to tap into the new technology vibe.
“I love my role and consider myself to be a member of every single department,” Campbell says. “IT is nothing without relationships and interpersonal connections.”
Admittedly, that flurry of activity during spring break was hectic, but on the first day back from vacation, classes resumed virtually with minimal disruption, in what Gilman now calls “ConnectED Learning.”
That’s because Campbell’s team worked to ensure that every student was given the right tools. That meant obtaining mobile Wi-Fi hotspots—including for faculty and staff—and making sure everyone had working devices before the school closed.
Campbell also spent the first week training faculty on how to use Zoom, including drafting a distance learning support guide that included instructional videos. In addition to collaborating with associations like ATLIS (Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools) and AIMS (Association of Independent Schools in Maryland and D.C.), his team also worked with the two tech directors at the sister schools to keep lines of communication open at all three schools.
“It was all about helping our teachers feel comfortable and getting them to a place where they could feel confident,” Campbell says. “It was time and effort well spent.”
Computers and connections
Looking back, this boy from Brooklyn found comfort, confidence and—unbeknownst to him—the foundation of his ultimate career path in independent school education while drawing inspiration from the environment of St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, where he graduated in 1998.
A budding interest in computer science led him to Williams College—and later DeVry University, where he earned his bachelors in IT Technical Management in 2012.
While his initial career out of college would take him back to the city, he always felt the tug to go back to that independent school environment, but it would be a matter of time and opportunity.
Hired at Canon Business Process Services Inc., in New York in 2002 while simultaneous studying to become a classroom teacher, Campbell started out as an IT help desk technician, transitioning to a role as help desk supervisor and SOx compliance officer in 2004 before being promoted to IT application support supervisor in 2011.
Campbell credits the city’s 2003 blackout for teaching him how to operate in less-than-ideal circumstances—and the importance of having contingency plans. Another growth experience came in the late 2000s, when there was a three-month stretch where personnel and office operations were split between two locations.
“I learned very clearly of what to do as well as what not to do … and those lessons have helped me to this day,” he says.
The experience also showed him what he did not want.
Remembering the lifechanging experience he had at St. Paul’s, Campbell wanted to go back to independent school education, somewhere he knew he could make a meaningful impact on someone’s life, not just on a bottom line.
He made the leap in 2013, taking a position as director of technology at Far Hills Country Day School in New Jersey. Admittedly, some criticized his lack of private school experience and trying to bring forth too many corporate ideas.
“I had to win them over,” Campbell says. “That really taught me the lesson of how to become a successful leader, which boiled down to developing relationships. That only happens when you spend time with people to develop trust.”
Customer service, and then some
That collaborative approach was what got him hired at Gilman. After a period of observation, Campbell met every team member to talk about each individual’s aspirations and how they felt about their work—as well as his plans for a new direction for the department.
Some employees wanted to maintain the status quo. Others were all in. By the end of his first year, Campbell started to see changes—almost all of them for the better.
“We now have the right people on the bus in the right seats, which makes it really exciting,” he says.
Now, as the school continues to cope with COVID, his team has gelled so well they’ve even gotten emails of thanks and appreciation, a rarity in the IT world.
“Teachers were in situations they’d never been in before,” Campbell says. “We knew they’d be anxious and tense. It was incumbent upon us to help them take a deep breath and feel supported.”
For years, Campbell says his dream was to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives—not just those he serves, but also the ones he works with.
“I’m so proud of the work we are doing and the team around me now, both inside and outside the technology office,” he says. “It’s all about making people’s jobs easier and having a positive impact. Definitely the people make this job what it is—which is something special. We have a terrific team at Gilman, one that I am proud to work with on a daily basis.”
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