NORTH BEND — Brad Bixler has seen a lot of changes in education during his 30-year career.
Most of those changes have been in technology.
Though he is at the North Bend School District as a communications specialist and HR director, his career began on the other side of the country and in a different field.
Before his time in education began, blue screen computers in terminals were what most schools used. Word wasn’t around yet, and neither was Windows, but Bixler and others in education used Word Perfect, spreadsheets in “totally different formats,” among other now “old” technology.
“To be honest, my interest in education started because my wife did quite a bit of teaching as a graduate student,” Bixler said.
At the time, he had his first undergraduate degree in marketing management and had landed a job in downtown Washington, D.C. as a marketing representative for a graphics house.
“I had an interest in computers and educationally a strong math and science background,” he said.
Even so, he wasn’t happy with his job and was starting to look at making a change partly due to money, but mostly because he didn’t feel connected to his work.
His wife suggested he consider teaching, so he decided to jump in. Immediately he started subbing at a large district while taking classes for his licensure.
“I particularly liked teaching middle school,” he said. “As a young man, I seemed to fit pretty well in that. I was more successful doing middle school teaching, which was fun because it’s still a fairly active group. They are little kids in big bodies.”
After earning his license, he eventually ended up in Pendleton, Ore. with his wife where they raised their kids. It was there that he saw technology take a new turn.
“Pendleton is a declining district and has been for years now, where students leave during school at a rate that is fairly high,” Bixler said. “The district was trying to get a handle on that and understand why families are choosing not to stay, primarily in middle school and high school.”
In Oregon, Bixler saw that charter schools have been growing in attendance because parents, students and families were feeling disenfranchised with traditional brick and mortar schools.
“You can see some threads of commonality as far as why charter schools are growing in popularity, but every person I’ve spoken to has a unique story about themselves and their children,” Bixler said. “Most prevalent in our culture now is choice, from our phone to internet access to media, it’s all about choice. For schools not to be responsive to that, we get beat up.”
Schools don’t change as quickly as other aspects of society, Bixler explained. Because he is so involved in technology, he realized how much it influences education and is changing faster than schools can sometimes accept or accommodate.
“Take your phone for instance,” Bixler said. “It will be obsolete in two years. That cycle is getting shorter to the point that you’ll say it’s old after one year. Education just doesn’t have the opportunity to be that responsive. We’re on a four to six year cycle to bring in something new, buy it or do training for it, so that struggle is there. With choice, it has to do with not being able to respond as quickly as families want us to.”
During his career, he saw the internet take off. For education, the internet meant moving packets differently, downsizing certain components and with Macintosh computers that use the Graphic User Interface (GUI), it married what is now the click and drag which wasn’t available to education when it first came out.
“Through the course of education I saw the first part of Skype,” Bixler said. “I had an opportunity to meet with folks pioneering video digital pieces, which was impressive. The work that has continued throughout the country has made it faster and most companies we’re dealing with are not U.S. companies, so our economy is larger than what we do in the states, but education is affected by that.”
Bixler pointed out that the students passing through schools today have only ever known a world with technology and expect to have access to it in school.
“We need to make sure we don’t disconnect from the thinking component of all this technology because information isn’t where the problem solving comes in, but how you apply it,” he said. “You assimilate information from a variety of sources, so there’s a lot of teaching specific around how to use technology now.”
One of the other aspects he has seen develop in education, alongside technology, is how to teach teachers use it, especially those who didn’t grow up around it.
“Each district tries different models of support,” Bixler said. “We’re all doing a better job talking across districts and are networking extensively in our learning communities, so if someone has a better way to go about things it quickly gets disseminated.”
Though he is still working with the North Bend School District to continue integrating new technology into its buildings, he said the ultimate goal is to get every child to the point where they are successful and have the toolset needed for their path.
“School is about supporting dreams and hope,” he said. “Those dreams are the things that keep people motivated and moving forward. When they don’t have that path anymore, that’s when we jump back in. Overall, technology is going to change us and push us and cause us to rethink our base.”
Bixler has always been driven by the need to solve problems, take on challenges and interact with people. Similar to everyone else, at the end of the day, “I want to feel that I put together something of quality.”
“In terms of education, there’s always going to be an opportunity to improve systems and I enjoy those challenges,” he said. “In terms of my ultimate career goal, I don’t know yet. I am really pleased with landing here. It’s a great fit personally. My kids are in the northwest, so I can see them easily. Ultimately, I’d like to be a superintendent, but it has to be the right time and the right fit.”