David Wolford – Baugo Community Schools
When coach Marty Moyer’s barn burned to the ground, his wrestling team and a legion of his Indiana neighbors rushed to his aid to rebuild the structure as quickly as possible, working many hours without complaint.
In times like these, it’s nice to know people and places like this still exist, says David Wolford, the director of IT and soon-to-be director of operations at Baugo Community Schools in Elkhart, Indiana. Now, people are once again pulling together, but this time to help create technological opportunities for 1,900 children in this 18 miles square rural farm belt district.
Among the improvements, administrators and community members brainstormed to not only create free internet for students, but a paid apprenticeship program as well. The hope is by integrating students with local employers, the students will become a strong foundation for the community in the future.
“We thought our ideas at first were just dreaming big, but things fell into place,” Wolford says. “We are working hard to establish a successful model in what we do so it can be replicated in other areas.”
Creating Elkhart’s infobahn
Once famous in railroad history for laying the first track of the New York Central Railroad in 1851, Elkhart served as a vital and progressive link to connect the Atlantic Seaboard with the Midwest and beyond. Baugo Township railroad workers who swung a hammer to plant the spikes were known as “jimmies”—a name that stuck, exemplifying the tough, hardworking, blue-collar nature of the community.
“When planning out our technology initiative we didn’t want to cause any undue financial strain on families as part of the process,” Wolford recalls. “When Chromebooks were handed to children to do their homework, we wanted to make sure we built on that momentum and really prepared them to participate in a connected world.”
To that end, educators and local businesses have worked to foster a long-term solution aimed at giving graduating Jimmies more post-graduate opportunities within Elkhart itself.
“We want to foster relationships with local businesses and our students to build that desire and chance for them to stay local after graduation, for those that don’t move on to college and for those returning after graduating college,” explained Wolford.
Partnering together, the district and local businesses are developing apprenticeships, job opportunities and a nationally certified business entrepreneurship program through the Indiana Department of Education. Now, juniors and seniors in high school can partner with companies to get course credit, on-the-job experience and even a paycheck.
For example, local companies such as Hoosier Crane and Elkhart General Hospital are working with the school to provide jobs for students through the apprenticeship program. Meanwhile, another program lets students earn dual high-school and college credits for certain classes.
In addition, Career Pathways—a collection of programs to build students’ academic and technical skills to prepare them for employment—is creating opportunities in the biomedical sciences, engineering and other fields.
“We need technical people to keep the world running and our goal is to create opportunity for the students in areas that they themselves have chosen,” he says. “Through engagement we want to keep the best and brightest in our district to help our community grow into a place where people will want to be.”
There are other instances of the community rallying to support its students. Another large initiative, Wolford says, is that community partners and the school leadership developed the Baugo Promise to help students start 529s for college funds at a young age. Now, companies like Teachers Credit Union, are stepping forward to promote the program and/or provide funds.
As a hometown boy—and self-professed “Jimmie”—Wolford graduated from Jimtown High School in 1998 and from Indiana State University in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and sports management. With positive post-grad experiences as a substitute teacher and work in special education, Wolford says his work with students was purposeful, inspiring him to circle back to Indiana University South Bend to earn his degree in special education and teaching in 2005.
Joining the Baugo Schools as an intervention teacher in 2006, Wolford spent eight years teaching special needs, transitioning into technology roles in 2015, where he has been ever since. Time spent in the classroom gave him considerable insight as to how he could best help both teachers and students, invaluable when prioritizing technology projects on his punch list.
Now overseeing technological projects with his team, technology coaches are planted in each school “to help spread our new initiatives and to have a resource in the building to answer questions for other teachers and staff.” By further developing a relationship with HP to become a certified repair facility, he and his Network Administrator Steven Williams are trained in warrantee work—and even get paid to service Baugo schools’ own equipment, bringing dollars back to the district.
Wolford is quick to point out many hands make light work and credits many for the strength and success of these technology initiatives, such as Superintendents James DuBois and Byron Sanders; Assistant Superintendent Carol Deak; Business Manager Zac Quiett and the rest of the Baugo team at the Education Services Center. The other key component in all of this is the support of a committed school board—without their approval, he says, none of this would be happening.
“I’m nothing special; I’m lucky to be a part of this. It all comes together because of the amazing community partners who want to help each other and see their own people succeed,” Wolford says. “I know it sounds corny, but once a Jimmie, always a Jimmie. It’s easy to buy into the spirit of this community; you just want to turn around and make this a better place.”
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