Pirate News: Tech guys by day; rock stars by night.

February 24, 2021

Jason Gale, at left, and Phil DeBrot in the server room at Hart Public Schools.

Pirate News: Tech guys by day; rock stars by night.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

Pirate News is a service of Hart Public Schools in cooperation with Oceana County Press. 

HART — Hart Public Schools excels in technology under the leadership of tech team Jason Gale and Phil DeBrot.

Jason and Phil, who are Hart High School graduates, grew up together, playing in rock bands and continue to perform in a local band named Ironik.

Ironically, their passion for music led them to their current jobs.

Jason Gale

“We always had computers because we both had always been in bands,” said Phil. “We built computers and recorded bands. We were always dabbling with computers,” said Phil.

“We went to grade school together and played baseball together,” he recalled. “His dad sponsored the league — Gale Roofing.” 

Their friendship really struck a chord when they were in middle school. “Once we hung out, it was music right from the get-go. We were skateboarding and jamming.” Both are guitarists.

Jason said he began playing video games in middle school, which also sparked an interest in computers.

Over the years, the pair have played in several bands together including the popular 56 Tricks. 

Phil DeBrot

The early rap phase of their musical endeavors triggered a technology fascination. “He was the mix master, and I was the rapper,” said Phil. 

“The technology and the music started when we started doing things with these little Casio keyboards,” said Phil. “But then we graduated to a bigger keyboard, and then it really started getting techy if you wanted to get a drum machine and a sequence recorder so you could then program your rhythm and your bassline on the synthesizer and it would be in sync with the drum machine.”

“We were doing mini programming,” said Jason.

The rap phase genre was quickly replaced with heavy metal and hard rock. “We were listening to Van Halen and Metallica, and before you know it, we had to take the gold chains off,” said Phil. 

During the heyday of their musical pursuits in the mid-90s, their classic rock band Bad Toy opened for heavy metal legend Ozzy Osbourne at Val Du Lakes in Mears in front of a massive crowd.

Phil, at left, and Jason in a “buddies shot” for Phil’s senior photos.

Another highlight was attending the New York International Music Festival in 2004 and winning the competition. 

Their current band has not played in the past year due to COVID-19, but Jason and Phil said they are eager to get back on stage. “It’s time to start jamming again,” said Phil. 

Not only has the pandemic impacted their night gigs, it has also greatly affected their work at the school district.

“We definitely increased our number of student devices,” said Jason. “When you’ve got 1,200 student devices out there, that means that at any point during the day there are about 600 kids on the internet. So, now you have your wifi access points through the roof. I remember when we didn’t have any.” There are now 100 wifi access points throughout the district as well as 100 security cameras. “All of this has grown — your infrastructure has grown, devices have grown. The struggle is getting it all working smoothly.”

The pair spend many weeknights, weekends and even snow days working — when students and teachers are not in the buildings, so they don’t interrupt connections. “You can’t shut down the network when other people are here,” Jason said. “We love snow days.”

Troubleshooting remote students’ tech issues is a difficult venture. “You don’t know if it’s user error, a hardware error, or their router is stuck,” said Phil. It’s also hard to troubleshoot depending on the student’s location and his or her wifi service, Jason said. “Internet has always been an issue outside of town to a certain degree.”

Jason said they’re grateful that Hart has a high number of students doing face-to-face learning instead. 

The two had to prepare for 100 percent virtual learning this year in case Michigan schools went that route due to the pandemic. Getting supplies has been slow-going due to a high demand for school technology. “I ordered staff chrome books the first week of June, and we just got them in last week,” said Jason. 

“It’s working for the kids,” said Jason regarding the positive aspect of his career. “They’re our kids; they’re our family’s kids; they’re our neighbors’ kids — that’s the benefit.”

Jason Gale

Phil said he feels fortunate to work with a professional and fun staff. “They’re great people.”

It’s their lively rock-and-roll attitude that separates them from most IT guys who are often known for being nerds or geeks. They bring fun into the tech world.

The best friends often assist people during stressful times — when their computer isn’t working. “You just have to keep the humor in there,” said Jason.

Phil said he has met several other tech employees at meetings who epitomize the computer geek stereotype. “They’re brilliant, but they don’t have people skills,” said Phil. “It’s like they’re talking to cardboard. There have been a few of those geeky-looking guys at the meetings that all of sudden you don’t see them anymore.”

“Eighty percent or more of those jobs is talking to people,” said Jason.

Sometimes the problem can be as easy as simply turning on the computer or plugging it in. However, there are times when they don’t know what is wrong and have to do some research to figure it out.

The district was recently awarded a $518,000 grant that will propel it even higher into the ever-advancing tech world.

School officials were recently notified that the district was awarded the rural technology grant from the Michigan-based Thompson Foundation. All of the staff devices will be upgraded and all teacher stations will be replaced, said Hart Public Schools Superintendent Mark Platt. The grant funds will be used to replace all audio visual equipment district-wide. Grant funds will also be used for professional development. A technology coach for teachers will be hired to “increase teachers’ skill set in technology.” 

“We’re excited about that, because it gives some outside professional development for the teachers,” said Jason. “It gets everybody on board at the same time.”

“Phil and Jason are amazing at what they do,” said Spitler Elementary School Principal Andrea Degen. “Not only do they have an incredible work ethic and high skill set in the tech world, they always answer our questions and are patient in showing the staff how to troubleshoot and navigate. Sometimes technology can be intimidating, however, our tech guys have a unique way of making the staff feel comfortable and they ALWAYS make us laugh!”

“Jason and Phil maintain an excellent rapport with staff and students,” said Hart High School Principal Brandon Bruce. “They are easily approachable and are always willing to help out. This district is very fortunate to have two individuals of their capacity working in it. They handle a huge amount of tech needs.”

Jason has worked for the district for 20 years and is the district’s technology director. Phil came on board 10 years ago and serves as a Level II tech and auditorium manager. Jason served as baseball coach and was middle school athletic director. 

“Learning never stops,” Jason. “You learn every day. It changes every day.”

Phil graduated from Hart in 1992, and Jason the following year in 1993.

Jason has worked in the roofing industry in his family’s business and in the manufacturing industry. Phil has worked in agriculture and in manufacturing.

Phil worked in ag tech for a few years, which further sparked his interest in computers. 

“It is a lot of fun working with Jason and Phil,” said Hart Middle School Principal Kevin Ackley who went to school with both of them. “They both have a lot of energy and you can always count on a good laugh from Phil. They are good visionaries and are the reason technology in Hart is so great. I have known these guys since high school and have truly enjoyed working with them. Phil was the old guy graduating one year ahead of Jason and me,” he joked. “It’s been so much fun being a Pirate with them since kindergarten.”  

Jason and Phil joke that when it comes to figuring out a tech solution “if there’s a will, there’s Phil. If there’s a way, there’s Jay.”

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