The Catalyst ROCKITS Bring Technology to All

Imran Shamim is the Director of Information Technology at Catalyst Charter Schools. His life experiences have shown him the profound power of technology, the way that it can impact communication and, at its deepest level, the way that people feel seen and heard.

Imran is originally from Pakistan. He moved to Chicago in 1999, where he went to school and started to work. As an immigrant, Imran faced many challenges in his new home country, including stereotypes in which people made assumptions about the type of person he was solely based on where he was from. But it was because of these challenges that he came to believe that the only way to change someone’s mind was to show them who he was, day after day.

Imran eventually started looking for work at nonprofits – a space where the organization had a mission, vision, and values that aligned with his own. A friend introduced him to San Miguel Schools, which gave birth to The Catalyst Schools in 2006.  He went from being the HelpDesk Manager to the Director of IT in that time. In 2016, he started to teach a radio class, with the intent of giving students a chance to speak their voice on the radio. He created a space for dialogue. To this day, the students love working with the multimedia and find the dialogue to be super rewarding.

Imran also felt that it was important that the work of the IT Department aligned with the Catalyst core values. He started this process by making sure that everyone in the building knew about the IT Department, the work they did, and why they did it. To make it super clear, they named themselves the ROCKITS and created a website, where it states the following:

“We, the ROCKITS, are determined to provide a reliable infrastructure, access to quality technology and support for both scholar and teacher engagement in the learning process.  Our goal is to provide opportunities for our scholars and teachers to actively engage in the teaching and learning process through technology while preserving the human connection. We understand the human component is crucial in the teaching and learning process and we are committed to fully support the people involved in the process as they strive to utilize the technological tools provided.”

The Catalyst leadership team is a big believer in the power of technology and have supported the ROCKITS work since its inception. Imran works closely with Le Anne Wagner, who is the Director of Instructional Technology & Data. As a former teacher herself, Le Anne’s role consists of connecting the IT Department with the teachers and administrators. This has been an important role, because since 2014, Catalyst has had a 1-1 ratio for student-to-technology.

To expand their impact in 2015, Imran started to work with AT&T and the local aides to provide free internet access to the neighborhood. His goal was that every student who goes to Catalyst would have free access to the school’s entire internet and technology infrastructure. That was a 10-year goal, and the urgency of the pandemic necessitated an extraordinary investment of time and resources which resulted in meeting that goal 5 years early.

The ROCKITS take a planned and proactive approach to solving problems. This was critical when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicago earlier this year and Catalyst had to make a quick shift to full remote learning. Since March, The ROCKITS have handed out over 1600 devices and 70 hot spots, and ensured 100% of Catalyst students have internet connectivity in their homes. They developed a multi-tiered approach to support families to use that technology with the following:

  • Proactive calls: One of the Technology Specialists does regular device and digital checks to see if families have working internet and provide support.

  • Email Help Tickets: Families email in any concerns they have and the ROCKITS respond quickly. They’ll be setting up a call line soon.

  • Virtual Family Office Hours: This is where families can ask any questions they want and get support from a video person over GoogleMeets. They are offering in-person technical support soon with measures taken to keep everyone safe.

Last year brought immense amounts of change to the way that Catalyst and The ROCKITS do work. But that never changed their goals and values, as they continue to provide the support that their families need. The families think so too! As one parent said, “You are doing an amazing job with our children and also keeping parents informed so that we can understand what’s needed from us and technology.”