In March of 2020, the entire Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) shifted to remote teaching, learning and working. This would not have been possible without the work of Dawn Marshall, ITS Assistant Supervisor of Operational Support, who was repeatedly recognized by those who nominated her as a WRDSB 2020 Champion.

Photo of Dawn MarshallSpeaking with each of Marshall’s nominators revealed clear themes: empathy, generosity, leadership, expertise and a passion for supporting staff and students in learning.

With every project Marshall approaches, she is always focused on making a difference for those using technology in the WRDSB – from Grade 9 students receiving their own Chromebook, to Principals who rely on their laptops to keep their schools running smoothly. Marshall’s dedication has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues.

“I’ve seen her passion for the user,” said Suzanne Carter, Application Programmer and Analyst in ITS. “I’ve seen how dedicated she is to making sure they’re getting what they need.”

In the months since the emergency closure of schools, Marshall and her team’s accomplishments have been numerous. From the deployment of nearly 20,000 devices and books to students, support staff and administrators across the system, to the creation of Tech@Home, to her continued work supporting the entire ITS Department through the ITS Engagement Committee – it seems Marshall hasn’t taken a moment to pause.

For these reasons, and many more, Marshall was front of mind when Michelle Tomchishen, Assistant Supervisor of ITS Infrastructure, saw the call come out for WRDSB 2020 Champions.

“Dawn is always my first thought when it comes to these things,” she said. “I feel like I’m not going to do her justice, because she’s just so awesome,” Tomchishen added with a laugh.

Although there were many uncertainties when the WRDSB moved to full distance learning in the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marshall wasn’t deterred from her goal of supporting the system. James Schumann, Senior Infrastructure Analyst in ITS, described her incredible response to an increased demand under unimaginable circumstances.

“She turned it up to eleven and just left it there,” said Schumann. “It’s ridiculous.”

He explained that, for Marshall, the focus was on ensuring everyone in the system had the ability to continue working effectively from a distance. Her goal was making sure staff and students didn’t have to worry about whether or not their technology was working while trying to adapt to a new teaching, learning or working environment.

“That should be a given, that should be the last problem,” said Schumann. “When we’ve got a problem, she’s on it.”

With the arrival of September and the new school year, there was no sign of Marshall slowing down. Christine Regier, IT Support Specialist, spoke with amazement about how Marshall continued to keep everything organized, at a time when work was only accelerating.

“Spreadsheets and colour-coding and organizing – it was just so impressive,” said Regier. “She was juggling so many things.”

Marshall is humble when speaking of her own accomplishments, and always makes sure to express that it was truly a team effort.

“I’m kind of humbled by it,” Marshall said with a laugh. “I’m part of a team, but I’m glad people think I’m doing a good job!”

2020 has been a challenging year for all, and Marshall explained she and her team were not insulated from this, either. The system closure meant that methods for processing devices had to be entirely reimagined, as previous approaches had relied on having everyone working in the same building. Despite the challenges, Marshall remained focused on supporting staff and students with her usual high level of service.

“It’s been a challenging year,” said Marshall. “Everything had to be done differently. Our team has learned how to support clients in entirely new environments.”

An important part of this approach was the development of the Tech@Home website, which empowers staff, students and families with the ability to troubleshoot common problems themselves. Marshall’s idea to create this resource grew out of a request from an in-school technician, who was looking for a way to submit support requests for students. With the support of her supervisors, she set forth with a small team who worked tirelessly to build the Tech@Home website.

“They were amazing – I’m so proud of the work that they did,” said Marshall. “This one I am, probably, most proud of.”

It began with a Chromebook-specific resource, but now includes information for iPad users and it continues to grow. It’s even caught the attention of other school boards throughout the province, some of which have requested to link to these resources for their staff and students.

“It’s kind of neat to see it being helpful, not just for our own community, but for other communities too,” said Marshall. “They found it really useful.”

Marshall’s great capacity for empathy came up again and again when speaking to her nominators. In the early months of the pandemic, there became a need to distribute bereavement cards to members of the ITS team, but the usual approach would no longer work. Marshall quickly created an e-card that was distributed throughout the team so everyone could offer their condolences in a safe manner.

“It was just something that I started doing, because I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Marshall. “I felt like I needed to express my sorrow and the fact that I was thinking about my colleagues.”

For those who know Marshall, there was no surprise that she was behind such a caring and thoughtful gesture.

Reflecting on 2020 and the hurdles encountered and overcome, Marshall maintains her characteristic humility.

“I’m very grateful,” she said of working with the entire team at the WRDSB. “It’s been a collective, group effort.”

WRDSB 2020 Champions

It has been a year unlike any other in public education. All that we have achieved together as the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) would not have been possible without the individual contributions of our staff to support our students, staff and community.

We’ve received hundreds of nominations for WRDSB 2020 Champions from our internal campaign. We will be sharing a selection of these stories with our community in the lead-up to the winter break to help end the year on a bright note of positivity in a year when these are too few and far between. Join us by sharing these stories and more on social media with #ShareTheGood.