Technology advocates retire from Williston schools (6/11/09)

June 11, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

When Charlie Wilson first came to teach at Williston Central School 37 years ago, computer technology was in its early stages. Today, Wilson, the district’s senior technology educator, surrounds himself and his students with the latest technology the early 21st century has to offer.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Charlie and Jane Wilson sit in the Allen Brook computer lab while taking a break from teaching. The husband and wife educators will retire from the Williston School District at the end of the school year.

Blackboards are disappearing in favor of new SmartBoards, large display boards that connect to computers, and desktop computers are giving way to mini laptops. It’s been a fast shift, Wilson said.

“I knew technology would be important in schools, but I didn’t realize the amount we would have,” Wilson said, looking back on his career.

After more than three decades, Wilson has decided to retire. Also retiring is his wife, Jane Wilson, a third and fourth grade teacher in Calliope House at Allen Brook School. Jane Wilson has been teaching elementary school students in Williston for 21 years.

The Wilsons have two adult children, one of which has followed closely in their footsteps — daughter Jessica Wilson is Allen Brook’s software integrator.

The couple is known throughout the school system as leaders in moving the district forward in technology, said Allen Brook Principal John Terko. While Charlie Wilson instructs teachers and staff on how to use and implement the newest technologies in the classroom, his wife puts technology to the test with her young students.

“Jane really has taken her class to the next level with technology,” Terko said. “And Charlie has always been moving Williston ahead in this area.”

The Wilsons are quick to praise the district and the Williston School Boards throughout the years for having the foresight to embrace technology.

“This school system has always been great about providing teachers with technology,” Jane Wilson said.

Her husband, who started out as a middle school math teacher at Williston Central, learned basic computer programming in the early 1970s. With that knowledge, the administration asked Charlie Wilson to spearhead the purchase of a TRS-80 personal computer. With the help of a $250 grant, Wilson bought the basic personal computer and began integrating it into his math classes.

“That really was the start of the program,” he said.

As technology improved, the district set aside more money for computer purchases. Wilson took charge of the effort, relinquishing his job as a math teacher and accepting the role of technology educator in 1987. In 1989, the school received an IBM grant that allowed for a full-fledged network. In the 1990s, more computers and technology were purchased to augment the new network. Soon, Williston was the most technologically advanced school in Vermont, if not the United States, Wilson said.

“Because we were consistent, we were able to build on what we had,” Wilson said.

Through it all, Wilson taught teachers how to use technology at its highest potential and realize their visions for better teaching techniques.

When Wilson began his new position in Williston, his wife soon began teaching elementary school students. She said she was drawn to the school’s multi-age learning configuration and its openness to new learning techniques for the classroom.

Also a proponent of teaching technology in the classroom, Jane Wilson brought in many early Apple computers and accessories for her students. Today, with many families having computers at home, technology is allowing teachers to stay in constant touch with students for assignments and projects, Jane Wilson said. It’s not uncommon for her to answer a student’s e-mail in the early hours before school, or comment on a student’s blog during the weekend.

For all her years teaching in the district, Wilson said project-based learning has been a constant in her classroom, no matter how fast technology has improved.

“My philosophy hasn’t changed,” she said. “(Students) take ownership when they get real, authentic learning.”

The Wilsons are looking forward to retirement. Being avid travelers, they hope to see parts of the world they have yet to explore. They also hope to keep up on the latest technology by co-teaching graduate courses at local colleges and universities.

The Wilsons have said they expect technology to take further leaps and bounds in the coming years, and both plan to stay up to date. As for their time at Williston, it’ll be hard to leave, but they hope they’ve prepared their students for success in the growing world of technology.

“I feel like I’m leaving my kids with great skills to go into the future,” Jane Wilson said.