What Keeps a K-12 CTO Up at Night
Recently, I was asked, "What are the top three pressing concerns facing Chief Technology Officers in today's K-12 education environment?" I thought it was an interesting question, especially for those who might be interested in delving into this kind of career. The three came easy for me, and none of them are particularly technical.
I believe students have the right to access the knowledge of the world and modern tools that help them create, communicate, and collaborate. As we create 1:1 device environments for students in pursuit of this belief, we also encounter a moral problem that we must address. We can put technological filters in place, but we can't completely protect students all the time from the danger on the Internet. We have an obligation to make sure that we are building the filter in students' minds through proper Digital Citizenship professional development and curriculum integration for staff, parents, and students. This is a huge challenge as staff will often view the integration of these concepts as one more thing that they must do with insufficient time. We've addressed these issues in our district by creating an environment in which schools earn greater access to Internet services (like YouTube for students and Pandora for staff) that they want by completing our Digital Citizenship Checklist every year.
Ongoing Budget Needs
Schools have been accustomed to purchasing technology with one-time money and categorical funds, but that's not a sustainable practice for the future. CTOs must convince their superintendents, CBOs, and boards that the technology supporting the core curriculum represents ongoing expenditures that need to come from the general fund. The convincing starts with a realization that core student technology is no longer an add-on to the classroom, but a utility (like electricity) that we must purchase in a sustainable way. It's the CTO's job to cast this vision, connect all of their thinking to educational outcomes, and show the organization how it is functionally possible.
Creating Sustainable, Supportable, and Flexible Environments
Many school CTOs are hanging on the idea that the only way to have a supportable install base of devices is to have a standardized install base of devices, where all or most of the devices are the same. However, this is an IT-centric way of thinking, not a student-centric way of thinking. We must have technology environments that support great flexibility to accomplish educational goals, and this is a huge challenge for CTOs. At the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, we've created an extremely flexible environment that allows principals to drive the educational vision of their school and pursue the technology that best fits that vision in a supportable and sustainable way. Through a mix of visionary leadership and innovative ideas, we do things that other districts think are impossible, or at least extremely inconvenient! The biggest challenge in this area for the near future, however, is making our physical spaces more flexible as well, and for most districts, this can only truly be accomplished over many years with the help of general obligation bonds and parcel taxes.