Running a district IT department becomes increasingly challenging as more technology enters the schools, classrooms and students’ hands.
That’s why, when I was an IT director, one of my biggest concerns was building and maintaining an open line of communication with my superintendent. Other IT administrators often ask me how to do that, and my answer touches on trust, curriculum priorities and community. It all comes down to one unifying intention: relationships.
Technology departments support all district functions, from financial systems and student information systems to instructional software at the teacher and student levels. A trust-based, working relationship between district IT administrators and superintendents ensures technology decisions and overall strategy align and are articulated appropriately to constituents who make broader budgeting decisions.
The relationship also matters because superintendents rarely have experience working in a school technology department. Instead, they’re expected to possess a more holistic view of the school and district, rather than technology-specific knowledge, which means superintendents often must rely on IT leaders to make informed decisions about technology purchases.
The typical superintendent needs school board approval for any tech initiative or large purchase. It’s important that such purchases are made with the tech department’s recommendations for how best to support the curriculum, students, and business functions of the organization.
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Let Curriculum Be the Driver of Tech Purchasing Decisions
Technology should not determine curriculum; curriculum should determine technology. All too often, districts embark on large technology initiatives without establishing how it ties into the curriculum. When technology is implemented inconsistently with curriculum enhancements — such as learning platforms and classroom management solutions — the chances that teachers successfully use the technology to improve education decrease.
IT administrators should tie technology initiatives to curriculum or instructional best practices, and be able to articulate why a purchase is being proposed and how it supports curriculum goals.
Technology leaders should listen to the needs and wants of those developing any large curriculum initiative, such as a one-to-one deployment, and use that feedback to recommend the best device and network upgrades to support the initiative. They should also have a plan for funding the initiative before making a technology recommendation to the school board.
This prevents overspending and uninformed technology acquisitions and increases the chances the superintendent and school board will approve the initiative.
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Proactively Offer Information to Build Trust
School boards are charged with approving large purchases, and board members often question superintendents about technology costs. A superintendent may need to explain, for example, why an enterprise network requires more advanced hardware than a home network. This type of request makes the relationship between the superintendent and tech department paramount.
Tech departments should provide the superintendent with the information they need to answer basic questions from the board. The superintendent should bring in trusted technology representatives only when needed for passing an initiative.
School boards often task superintendents with preparing documentation to inform long-range planning and support technology decision-making. IT administrators can help prepare superintendents by creating a list of hardware and software that are compatible with district technology, such as Chromebooks, other laptops, web resources and classroom management tools.
Proactively helping the superintendent increases the odds that administrators can get what they need to better serve their students, parents, board members and school community.
Connect with Parents and Community Stakeholders
Important relationships within the school district extend beyond the partnership between the IT administrator and superintendent to groups such as local businesses and the PTA. For example, a PTA in my district once purchased a buildingwide set of interactive flat-panel displays that had to be returned because they weren’t compatible with the school’s infrastructure.
The PTA members initially were upset, but after working with the reseller we were able to exchange the flat panels for district-approved equipment. I learned that I needed to be more proactive with my community partners to help guide purchasing decisions.
Building and maintaining such relationships can be extremely beneficial for school and district stakeholders. Although these partnerships may be a great way to boost technology acquisition and utilization, it’s essential that everyone is knowledgeable about purchasing and donation guidelines.
Sharing the benefits of technology adoption, such as improved academic outcomes, is another way to build a positive connection with the community. Use platforms such as district social media accounts or quarterly newsletters to communicate these successes and highlight your superintendent’s leadership.
Having a positive relationship with the superintendent not only benefits IT leaders, but also is key to building trust with the school board and community as a whole. When handled with care, these relationships will set up tech directors for success as they work to support the district and its educational mission.