Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of Dallas Independent School District, speaks at CoSN2022.

Apr 11 2022

CoSN2022: Leaders Speak on Educational Equity Through Tech in Conference Keynote

The Consortium for School Networking’s opening session brought together a CIO, a superintendent and the commissioner of the FCC to speak on the power of working collectively toward a goal.

The Consortium for School Networking kicked off its annual conference Monday in Nashville, Tenn., with a keynote session featuring three leaders in policy, education and technology. Musician Benji Harris, the master of ceremonies for the conference, introduced Steve Langford, CIO for Oregon’s Beaverton School District and CoSN chair, and Holly Doe, CTO for New Hampshire’s Pelham School District and CoSN conference co-chair.

Langford and Doe introduced the keynote speakers for “Leadership Matters”: Arlington (Va.) Public Schools Assistant Superintendent and CIO Raj Adusumilli; Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa; and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission, who stepped in for FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel when she was unable to travel to the event due to COVID-19.

Adusumilli and Hinojosa shared powerful anecdotes with an eager crowd of attendees at CoSN2022. This is the first time the conference has been held in person in two years, after hosting virtual-only sessions in 2020 and 2021.

True to this year’s theme of “Amplifying the Power of One,” the three speakers focused on the power of a single goal, change or initiative during the session.

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The Intersection of Digital Equity and Educational Technology

Digital equity has been a monumental area of focus since the onset of the pandemic. Adusumilli’s and Hinojosa’s stories centered on the connectivity challenges they faced in their own districts.

Adusumilli discussed how his district used a combination of Kajeet access points, new technologies and a lot of communication to connect students to the school’s network. The district worked as a team to reach all students in the district, bringing in bilingual family liaisons and even knocking on doors when they couldn’t otherwise reach learners.

It wouldn’t have been possible without “every single person in the department of information services,” Adusumilli said, but they brought connectivity in Arlington School District up from 89.7 percent to 99.3 percent.

 Arlington (Va.) Public Schools Assistant Superintendent and CIO Raj Adusumilli

Arlington (Va.) Public Schools Assistant Superintendent and CIO Raj Adusumilli speaks at CoSN2022.

Hinojosa also faced connectivity concerns in Dallas ISD when the pandemic began. He shared the lessons he learned on his journey to becoming a leader in K–12 education and how it helped him connect 36,000 households with no connectivity in his district.

“Dallas is a tale of two cities,” Hinojosa said. “You have big, beautiful Dallas, while 90 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, 95 percent of our students are minority students, and 48 percent of our students are English learners.”

Additionally, Dallas ISD’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program — a partnership between the district, higher education and many CTE industry partners — grew tremendously, giving underprivileged students an opportunity to get ahead in tech and construction careers.

READ MORE: Districts partner with businesses to train tomorrow’s IT workforce.

FCC Commissioner Shares Insights on Affordable Access

Starks, who joined the speaker lineup only hours before the conference began, answered questions Doe posed in a Q&A format. The conversation centered on the FCC’s plans for affordable connectivity for families across the nation.

“We’ve been talking for almost 30 years about closing the digital divide,” Starks said. “The pandemic amplified the disparities of who has, and who does not have, connectivity. It widened the chasm on young learners being able to perform. It has really demonstrated the urgent need to close the digital divide.”

He noted that standing up a brand-new federal program is difficult, and that ensuring equitable connectivity will be a communitywide effort.

Starks told attendees that the most important responsibility is to get the word out. “Trusted voices, like school districts, I cannot impart to you the strength of the voice that you have in not only letting people know about the program but encouraging them to sign up,” he said. “Having that person-to-person, trusted voice is mission critical.”

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission joined CoSN2022 virtually.

He also spoke on the Emergency Connectivity Fund, saying the FCC made a point to hear directly from students. “An eighth grader told me, pointedly, that she needed better internet,” Starks said, adding that another ECF funding window will open for the upcoming school year.

He said the FCC anticipates $1 billion more in funding will be available in the upcoming third window to help schools and libraries get the technology they need to get students online.

The importance of ed tech and connectivity to support digital equity was evident in all three speakers’ time on stage. “I believe that technology is a very, very important part of the new normal,” Adusumilli said. “And if we don’t focus on that, we will not be able to sustain the future.”

EdTech is covering CoSN2022, so keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage. Follow @EdTech_K12 on Twitter for live updates and join the conversation using the hashtag #CoSN2022.

Photography by Rebecca Torchia

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