After seven years as principal of Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Ga., Michael Hall was appointed by the Department of Education in March to oversee administrative, educational and internal technology.
When Hall became principal of Houston County High School, it had less than 100 computers and no network in place. When he left, it was one of only two schools in the entire country named "Best of the Best" in the 2004 Twenty-First Century Schools of Distinction Award Program, sponsored by Intel, Scholastic Inc. and Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. More than 1,200 schools entered the award program.
In Houston County High School, woodshop is wireless, right?
Woodshop is unique. First of all, every classroom comes down to the teacher. We have a great woodshop teacher. His father was a furniture builder. Students design their own furniture using wireless Centrino notebooks and CAD 2004, and after they design it, they build it. In woodshop they learn to build the furniture the old-fashioned way. They have CNC lathes and all that fancy stuff, but they don't use any nails or staples or any of that kind of stuff. Everything is done with dowels, and dado and dovetail joints.
How did you pull off financing the school's technology acquisitions?
We restructured everything. There was a lot of beg, borrow and steal. We got a number of 486 machines donated from a local Air Force base. There's a funding source -- SPLOST [special purpose local option sales tax] -- that the community passed to build school buildings and all of that. Five million dollars of that was used for technology, which was split between 35 schools in our district. We also used E-Rate funding to do network infrastructure.
We developed a classroom management system that gave parents, students and teachers real-time Web access to grades, attendance, test scores -- anything you could do in a classroom became Web based and real-time. That promoted a lot of community involvement.
In your new position with the state, is it a matter of taking your technology experience as a principal to the nth degree? Or is it a little different?
It's a lot different in that there's a lot of bureaucracy at the state level. My goal is to use the same principles. We're setting up 12 model schools in the state, and we have a number of partners involved in that project. We're also going to establish 50 wireless schools this year.
It is taking it to the nth degree in that respect, but when it comes to state government, things move much slower. As the principal, you can make it happen now. At the state level, you have a lot of layers to go through.
You also own a farm. Is it a business, or for pleasure?
I own a 135-acre farm with an old friend, and I raise cows and goats as a hobby. I also lease the 200 acres that borders the property for hunting rights.
It's nice because I can go and do what I call "tractor therapy." I have a big John Deere tractor [a 1975 model, the 4030], and I knock down trees or whatever I need to do.