Gary Norris: One of Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers

Gary has a technology vision for schools

by / March 8, 2006
This is an excerpt from the 2006 "Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers" an annual tribute to those individuals who are redefining and advancing technology's role in government and society.

Garry Norris signed on as superintendent of the Sarasota County, Fla., Schools in April 2004, and immediately joined with county administrator Jim Ley to consolidate IT functions of the two entities.

"Gary has a technology vision for schools," Ley said, adding that his vision helped consolidate the county and school district CIO positions into a single post. Each entity now pays half the salary of CIO Bob Hanson. This has allowed both entities to get much more value out of the position and put Sarasota County schools on the fast track to the elite in terms of the high-tech classroom.

Sarasota classrooms now feature electronic boards, teachers with microphones, and very soon, cameras will let parents peek into their children's learning experience.

Furthermore, the school district plans to adopt thin-client computing technology. "In the school business, given the limited size and space, to bring in desktops for everybody is not a good solution," Norris said. "And those school districts bringing in laptops for everybody are beginning to experience maintenance costs and damages. Not all laptops are made for elementary students -- or high-school students for that matter."

Servers to support the thin clients will be housed in a new central processing center the school district shares with the county. Norris said putting thin-client terminals on students' desks will be more cost-effective than handing them laptop PCs.

"I don't know what the exact number is, but it may save us 50 percent of our planned budget."

In its newer schools, the district is also exploring a floor system that uses inch-thick carpet or tile squares that accommodate power and network cabling. "Then if you want to reconfigure your classroom, it's easy for the maintenance staff do that," Norris said. "We're moving to a whole new level."