From the Apple 2 computer to the iPad, Anoka Hennepin School District 11’s first chief technology and information officer Patrick Plant has overseen the district’s changes in technology for the past 34 years. Plant will retire from this position June 29.
Plant joined the district in 1979 as the first community education coordinator to supervise several buildings. Plant said he has always liked administration and has attempted to be a leader by relieving barriers.
“It tends to be something that is about supporting people and education and kids and I enjoy doing that,” Plant said.
For Plant, at the core of both teaching technology and community education is a focus on the user experience. He has always taught those intimidated by technology that learning it is simply a matter of learning the language, not a matter of intelligence.
“If you learn the language then what you do with it becomes what you want to do with it,” he said.
During the past 39 years Plant had the opportunity to meet two of his great heros: Eric Clapton and Steve Jobs. Plant participated in a debate with Jobs about international education data sharing standards. Plant was a part of a group that created a data sharing software that was first used at Ramsey Elementary school in 1999 and is now used worldwide. After the debate, Jobs asked Plant to take a walk and shared several of his plans for Apple’s future products with Plant.
“I looked at him and I could tell, if I’m hearing 30 voices in my head then he’s hearing 50,” Plant said. “He asked me, ‘Where are you from again?’”
Plant was on both Apple and Microsoft’s advising councils for many years. The first Apple 2 computer Plant owned was purchased for him by a Mississippi Elementary School parent group. Plant went on to author the community education software systems for the next decade and also set up the district’s first network. He designed much of the software the district uses, including A-HConnect, where students and parents can find most of the the information they need in one place.
“You have to use design principles that meet the test of regular people,” he said.
Plant currently has the purchase order for the first computer the district bought for administration and communication hanging on his wall. The only technology “course” Plant has ever really taken was taught by Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson when Carlson was working in the Elk River school district. Plant said Carlson saw the applicability of the first spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, and shared it with Plant.
Plant and Carlson currently play as the guitar duo “PC2” together and perform at many fund-raisers and public functions. They have performed at several of the Anoka High School “Symphonic Rock” concerts, at Serum’s Good Time Emporium in Anoka and at the Northern Stars annual ball.
Plant grew up in Minnesota and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth, majoring in history and foreign languages. Plant said he started as a music major but changed his mind when he was told that creativity didn’t fit into the major. Those attracted to technology in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s were math or foreign language students, according to Plant. Plant said this is because technology is a combination of creativity and thinking about the user experience, characteristics that lean towards the liberal arts.
After college Plant worked in Duluth elementary schools in administration before moving back to the Twin Cities and working with Anoka-Hennepin. He became the district’s first director of technology in 1997. Plant said he was drawn towards technology because of the possibility of efficiencies in collaboration and the potential to remove barriers.
“Things were less complex in technology then in that there were fewer standards, but more complex in that there were no standards,” Plant said.
Plant started planning for his succession five years ago, and said the plan for the district is “not to skip a beat.” He has not yet made post-retirement plans, but knows that he will definitely be volunteering with the Anoka-Hennepin School District in some form, as they have been a family to him.
“I can’t imagine completely leaving home,” Plant said. “The Anoka-Hennepin family is unique in their support of each other, their caring and a belief in common interests… that’s really unique in the nation and the world.”
Bethany Kemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org