Manager of Information Technology, Peter Thompson looks back on his time at PHS

photo by Anya Sachdev

Peter Thompson, the Manager of Information Technology, has guided and led the major technological initiatives in the Princeton Public Schools for decades, and will be retiring at the end of the school year.


How have you been able to serve PHS through your position at the school?

I have provided technological support and management … in all of [the Princeton Public Schools] since 1984 or so. I attended [PPS] in 1965 as an elementary student at the Nassau Street School, then moved to John Witherspoon Elementary School, Valley Road Middle School, back to [JW] when it was converted to a middle school, then to PHS. I was hired to work for the school district, doing audio visual repair work, in June 1976. I have provided guidance for all the major initiatives and the technology that we’ve had in our schools …  including the video presentation systems that we have had in the classrooms, the computer networks, the Apple computers and Windows PCs, and Chromebooks, and so forth.


What technological projects were you able to accomplish and develop during your time at PHS?

During my 42 years working for the PPS, the project that I am most proud of has been the seven-building [Internet] network … with over 4000 school staff and student devices connected at any time in the school day. This network ran at 110 bps when I first became involved with it. We now have connections between our sites that operate at over 10,000,000,000 bps. I expect that to grow even further over the coming years. [The initiative began] in 1994, [when] I co-authored a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation that resulted in a $700,000 grant award, plus $2 million of donated Comcast services and facilities, to build a Distance Learning Network interconnecting all of the public schools and library branches across Mercer County with fiber optic cable. This network provided Internet services to each of these sites plus an interactive video network, allowing shared classroom teaching opportunities between up to four simultaneous school sites with 25 students per classroom participating.


photo by Rutha Chivate

What legacy do you hope to be leaving at PHS?

I hope to be leaving cutting edge technology, where appropriate in use, and [I hope] that what I have started will keep on going over the years. [I hope that the] Home Access Program will be expanded more over the years after I leave, providing [WiFi] access to students whose families, for whatever reason, do not have internet access at home or computers at home. [This way, they] aren’t held back in their academic studies by [the] lack of those resources.


What has been your most memorable experience at this school?

I have really enjoyed working with the students and teachers here over the years, and I am always amazed at the level of achievement that our students make. We have a lot of really smart kids here, smart teachers and a wide variety of interests, and I have really enjoyed working with all the people here. From the time when I was a student here, back in 1964, when I started going to school here … it’s always been a great place, and I’ve never had it let me down.  


What do you hope to pursue during retirement?

[I hope to] spend more time with my grandson, as he is a lot of fun, and do more travelling. [I want to] get out and travel the world some — and around the United States — and maybe relax a little bit. And maybe down the road I’ll probably do some volunteer work around Princeton.


What have you learned at PHS?

[PHS] is the only place I’ve worked my whole life, pretty much, and I’ve worked in a number of locations within the school district. [I’ve learned] about technology, working with people, management, and economics. All of the courses that I took when I went to school here went into what I ended up doing working here. It’s been a real learning experience, and one of the things that I think is great about the area of technology is that it is always changing, so it’s a lifetime learning experience — and you never stop [learning]. [To keep up with technology], I watch what the students are learning and experimenting with, and I talk to the teachers about what they are learning when they go to workshops and staff developments. And then [I] try to make sure that we can put in place the pieces that they need to take what they are trying to teach the students and put it out there. Also I do a lot of research online and attend conferences. I sat on National Science Foundation review boards, looking at technology funding for schools around the country, which was a great experience because I was … reviewing grant proposals and looking at what other schools all over the country were asking for funding for, which gave me lots of good ideas for how we could improve what we are doing [in the PPS school district].


What advice do you have for PHS students?

Keep on learning… be involved with activities and meeting people. Some of the most interesting things that I did in high school weren’t in the courses that I was taking as much as [they were in] the extracurriculars. I was part of the Tower staff, I was on the Prince staff, and [I] worked on drama productions on stage and did video recordings of sports teams. Those are the things that I remember — and the people I met. There are quite a few students from PHS who worked for me when they were here and I still keep in contact with them 20 or more years later. The people who you meet and the things that you learn in and out of the classroom are really important. The academics are critical, too, but it’s the people that are there with you when you’re learning … working with them — that’s what is really important.

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