Oct 12 2006

A Leader's View Maintains Control

Today’s education landscape is full of technology challenges that require the attention of a change agent—a CIO or CTO with vision and leadership.

What does it mean to be a change agent? In a nutshell, it means providing crucial leadership that helps others do their jobs, especially during a time of great transformation.

There’s no doubt that today’s education landscape is full of exciting challenges with respect to systemic technology integration. That’s why so many leading school districts have borrowed a page from their corporate counterparts and hired a district-level technology manager. Sometimes that role goes by the title of chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO).

As the strategic driving force behind the implementation, application, training and maintenance of a school district’s technology program, the CIO/CTO is arguably becoming second in importance only to the superintendent. So much of the day-to-day instructional and administrative activities in schools depend on the reliable and effective use of technology. Just think about how many crucial activities would be affected if your district’s network ceased to function.

Vision, leadership skills, the ability to communicate and persuade, and a knack for finding creative solutions are all crucial skills for a technology change agent. One area where these skills come into play is the ongoing need for collaboration and integration between a school district’s technology staff and its instructional staff. Sometimes the big-picture priorities of the IT staff can conflict with teachers’ desires for flexible grassroots-level technology solutions. This is when someone in a CIO/CTO role can help ensure that both sides understand each other’s needs and are able to communicate effectively.

In smaller districts, where every staff member often wears several hats, the technology change agent doesn’t simply report to the superintendent—that person could actually be the superintendent. One great example is Superintendent Dennis Bruno of the Glendale School District in rural Pennsylvania (see Teaching the Teacher on p. 14).

Undaunted by a lack of money for his ambitious technology plan, Bruno sought out grants to implement some truly creative and visionary initiatives. One of these is a groundbreaking “wireless to the home” project that links homes in the community to the Internet and to the district’s curriculum resources using a broadband wireless network. “People in the community had such a hard time getting high-speed Internet access, so we decided to do it ourselves,” Bruno says. Here’s just one example of how this project is benefiting the community: A homebound student is able to watch and listen to his teacher from his bedroom and interact with his classmates in real time.

Applying technology to help schools serve the public is not a rote process—it takes ingenuity and vision. That’s why every district needs a technology change agent. Although the job title may differ from district to district, look around and you’ll likely see the change agent at work in your schools. It may even be you.