In years past, you could catch Del Hickman at the coffee shop he owned in Seattle or opening for The Ramones, Billy Idol or The B-52s, but today, he describes himself as, “Chromebook Santa.”
“I was destined to be in this business, but I’m one L shy of being a billionaire,” Hickman said, referring to Dell, the computer company, with his usual sense of humor that is constantly on display.
As he dropped off the last of the newly purchased Chromebooks to Castaic Union School District teachers this year, the district’s network supervisor remembered a time when there were fewer than 400 Chromebooks throughout the district.
“Today, we’re heading towards 2,000,” Hickman said. “We’re almost 1:1,” and teachers are doing a great job of leveraging the technology and are excited for the added resources that Chromebooks bring to the classroom.
In fact, Castaic Union teachers have now successfully received more than $27,000 to purchase different technological platforms for their students, according to Castaic Elementary School Principal Allison West.
“A majority of the things teachers use for instruction are on the web,” which is why you see more and more applying for grants that will allow them to purchase iPads, laptops and other gadgets that could help enhance the student experience, Hickman said. “You’re never going to replace the teacher, but you can ensure that their supplies and resources enhance the experience for all.”
Castaic Middle School teacher Michelle Olafsson is piloting two new history programs that have online components. Her students were working in their textbooks when Chromebook Santa came to gift them a set of laptops that will allow the Castaic Union students to access Google Classroom — a web service that allows teachers to upload, distribute and discuss different classroom materials online.
“If you don’t have access to the internet nowadays, you have a severe disadvantage in today’s world,” Olaffson said. “But kids who don’t have the internet still have a phone. And the great thing about Google is they can log in anywhere that has internet.”
“It’s great because there are worksheets that I can download to my Google classroom and the kids can write on it right there,” Olaffson said. “You don’t have to buy paper so you’re saving trees and the forests.”
Coming from a family of loggers in the Pacific Northwest, Hickman said, “I always feel bad when people talk about saving trees, because my family’s mission was to take them down.”
The network supervisor sentimentally recalls running outside in his rural town’s woods where he’d fish and hunt right in his own backyard.
“It was a lot of work, though. Don’t get me wrong,” Hickman said, explaining how he’d climb towering trees that would swing and sway as he cut sections off using a chainsaw. “It’s crazy when you get through the cut of the tree and you’re hanging on for dear life. What an adventure.”
That was before he met his wife and began traveling with bands, he said, as he humbly shared stories of opening for The Ramones, Billy Idol or The B-52’s.
“I also did a lot of Vegas shows for bands that people will have to Google,” Hickman said. “We still do play shows. We do a lot of benefit stuff. We’re a real sucker for officers and first responders so we like doing stuff for them.”
Music has always been a significant part of Hickman’s life. In fact, it’s how he met his wife, with whom he recently celebrated 33 years of marriage.
The couple met through mutual friends as she was finishing up her teaching credential at the University of Washington, Hickman said. “Not too long after we got together is when we opened up the coffee shop and dessert bar in Seattle. It was a good time to be in that business because it was before Starbucks,” he jokes.
The couple would operate their small business happily until the late 1980s when they moved out to California because of a teaching opportunity in the Antelope Valley, which is where the couple would remain for nearly three decades.
When the opportunity to come to Castaic presented itself, Hickman knew he had to take the offer, “because I knew Mr. Doyle and Linette Hodson were here,” he said. “Their attitudes are 100 percent geared toward what’s in the best interest of kids. That’s what drives them, and I have a lot of respect for that. It’s something that I wanted to be a part of. I wanted to create an environment where teachers and kids can succeed.”
The reception and the interaction motivates you, he said. “You see what (teachers) are going through every day, so it makes you want to ratchet up your game. I dig the vibe.”
Having been married to a teacher for 33 years and having a son who was a product of public education who went on to attend an Ivy League school and now works in Munich, Del said he has a firsthand perspective of the accomplishments of public education.
“Sometimes it gets questioned, but I think it works,” Hickman said.
Enter one of the school sites in the Castaic Union district and Hickman’s work is evident from the moment you enter the door.
When he’s not bringing a smile to the faces of students, staff and faculty, the silver-haired supervisor can be found configuring computers, upgrading servers or implementing a program called Clever, which would help teachers maximize class time, he said.
“If I can save five minutes a day, then that’s 25 minutes a week (or) over an hour and a half a month that they can use for student instruction,” he added. Those minutes add up, so thankfully, there’s a pretty receptive group of folks in the district who are adventurous and use the technology to collaborate and support instruction.
The Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year is housed in Castaic, Hickman said. “I know the hard work she does. It’s quite an accomplishment. The community and kids benefit from having somebody like her,” and when you have a rockstar teacher such as Erin Oxhorn-Gilpin then you want to make sure the technology that’s provided doesn’t have to be thought about.
“I don’t mind not being thought about,” Hickman said. “People wonder what happens when things are going well and I always say, ‘We’re doing everything. That’s why it works well.’”
“It’s not just me, though,” Hickman said. Herbert Bautista and Lori Anthony are crucial to the tech team, “and I’m not trying to butter them up or anything, but I couldn’t do what I do without them.”
The trio who composes the district’s technological service team always tries to respond to requests within a day, “because we know how important is it to have access to the network,” Hickman said. It’s why he tries to be visible and can often be spotted at board meetings answering questions.
“I don’t want things to go unaddressed,” he said. “(Teachers) rely on us. The problems they’re having, they need to be solved right now.”
It’s not a one-man show, though, Hickman said. “When I got that award — district employee of the month for July — it was just because everybody in the team was killing it. They’re amazing and they’re the reason for this.”
As Hickman lists the projects that he and his team will focus on this year and beyond, the terms that he uses sail over a millennial’s head.
“You can bet they’ll be helpful,” he said.