Andrew Phillips, director of innovation for Cleveland City Schools, finds himself feeling thankful when he takes the time to reflect on what his life is like right now. “I have a great family, …
Andrew Phillips, director of innovation for Cleveland City Schools, finds himself feeling thankful when he takes the time to reflect on what his life is like right now.
“I have a great family, a great job, and I live in a great place,” Phillips said. “I guess you could say I’m pretty lucky.”
Phillips, who recently earned the Certified Education Technology Leader designation from the Consortium for School Networking, attributes at least some of his success to acting on his childhood interest in computers.
He was born in Mobile, Alabama, but his family shortly thereafter moved to Buffalo, New York, where he spent the first 10 years of his life. After 10 years, he and his family returned to the South, settling in Cleveland.
“I always used to say I was from New York, but I’ve now been here for almost 30 years. I’m more of a Tennessean than anything,” he said with a laugh.
Phillips first became acquainted with Cleveland City Schools as a student. He attended E.L. Ross Elementary School, Cleveland Junior High School and Cleveland High School.
It was during his school years that he became interested in computers and how they work. He recalls being excited about his father bringing home one of the computers typical of the late 1980s — a bulky desktop computer with a “green screen” monochrome monitor in which all letters and numbers were displayed in green.
As he got closer to his high school graduation in 1996, he began to consider a career which would pair his aptitude for math and science with his love for computers.
“The internet was really taking off at that point, and it seemed like a good field to get into,” Phillips said.
He later continued his education at Tennessee Technological University, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2001.
Before he launched his full-time career, Phillips got the chance to intern at Olin, in Charleston. There, he learned he had a knack for helping people solve their computer-related problems, rather than just working in behind-the-scenes computer programming.
“I really liked fixing computers and helping people, so that’s what I decided to do,” Phillips said.
Phillips returned to Cleveland after college and worked for the city school district for one year as a computer technician, before accepting a position as an IT systems analyst at Life Care Centers of America.
After two years at Life Care, he decided to return to Cleveland City Schools in 2004. From 2004 to 2010, he served as the school district’s assistant technology director. In 2010, be became the director.
“Director of Innovation” is a fairly uncommon job title in the education field, but he said “innovation” is a good word for what educators and support staff alike are trying to foster in the classroom.
He oversees the management of computers, networks, classroom technology and more for the school district — which is “pretty much anything that plugs in.”
In the early 2000s, school districts like Cleveland’s saw “an explosion of devices.” While devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones have consolidated what some the earlier devices could do, students are still using devices in school each day.
For example, Phillips has over the past couple years led the implementation of Cleveland City Schools’ BLADE Project initiative. Phillips oversaw the distribution of Chromebook laptops to thousands of students at Cleveland Middle School and Cleveland High School in 2018.
“The people who work in my department get a lot out of helping teachers put technology in place for their students,” Phillips said.
Problems do pop up when you’re trying to make technology work for thousands of students and teachers on a daily basis, but Phillips said making everything work “can be really rewarding.”
That feeling is what has led him to pursue opportunities like becoming a Certified Education Technology Leader. Candidates for this must have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years of educational technology work experience, and they must pass a two certification exams.
“It really covers the whole realm of what instructional technology is,” Phillips said. “I am only the seventh person in Tennessee to get this certification, though there’s a push to get more people certified.”
When he is not at work, likes to unplug a bit by watching and playing sports. He played basketball and baseball in high school, and he enjoys watching several different sports.
Most of all, he enjoys spending time with his family — his wife of 14 years, Andrea, and daughters Claire, 12, and Sloane, 11.
Though he at one point pondered leaving Cleveland to launch his career, but he is now glad to be able to work and raise his children here.
“It’s a great place to be,” said Phillips.
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