Michael Hinojosa, who recently served as superintendent of Dallas Independent School District, speaks at TCEA 2023.

Feb 01 2023

TCEA 2023: Former Dallas Superintendent Shares Lessons in Ed Tech Innovation

Michael Hinojosa says bold change, not incrementalism, has allowed him to bring dramatic improvement to a high-poverty district.

Michael Hinojosa, former superintendent of the 16th largest school district in the nation, told a room full of educators at TCEA 2023 that Dallas is a tale of two cities: one of immense wealth and one of great poverty. Hinojosa has intimate knowledge of Dallas’s poverty. He has twice led the Dallas Independent School District, where he said, 90 percent of his students were economically disadvantaged, 95 percent were ethnic minorities, 72 percent were Latino and 48 percent were English-language learners.

During a presentation titled “How to Leverage Educational Technology as a Learning Strategy,” Hinojosa shared with educators the ways he used educational technology to make an impact on the 141,000 students in that district.

“People have accused me of being innovative, but I just like to take risks,” he said. “I don’t like to sit back and let things happen.”

Hinojosa, who resigned from his superintendent post last year after 13 collective years at Dallas ISD, said he learned to be innovative back in the 1990s, when he was director of the Region 19 Education Service Center in El Paso, Texas. While there, he learned to look ahead, plan strategically and fix mistakes as he went.

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Transformation in Education Requires Bold Moves

Hinojosa went on to share lessons on innovation, one of which was to learn and adapt. He also said it was important for schools to adapt “the good IRS”: incubation, replication and scale.

“We just got tested,” he said. “We’re the only industry in the world that hasn’t reinvented ourselves.”

Hinojosa noted that Uber ushered in a major change in transportation, and that Xerox has changed its value proposition many times since its founding.

“We have not changed,” he said. “The pandemic gave us a great opportunity to get that creative tension when you stretch that rubber band, but guess what? When the pandemic ended, we snapped back.”

During his second stint as Dallas ISD superintendent, Hinojosa got an outside company to analyze some of the challenges facing the district. When all was said and done, his team got taxpayers to fund a $3.4 billion bond, with much of it going to educational technology.

Hinojosa TCEA 2023

Michael Hinojosa, who recently served as superintendent of Dallas Independent School District, says bold change spurs transformation.

He said “incrementalism” was the death knell for innovation. “Transformation is not incrementalism,” he said. “Our systems don’t need continuous improvement. They need quantum improvement.”

A Coalition Brings Connectivity to a High-Poverty School District

When schools were closed during the pandemic, students had to learn from home. However, 80 percent of Dallas ISD students did not have broadband access at home. So, Hinojosa made some bold moves.

“People were depending on me,” he said. “You can’t wait and sit back and hope. Hope is not a strategy.”

He pulled together a coalition of leaders from local government, nonprofit organizations and businesses to support connectivity in students’ homes.

“Everybody came to the table,” he said. “We had to do something, so we came up with a short-term plan.”

Michael Hinojosa
You can’t wait and sit back and hope. Hope is not a strategy.”

Michael Hinojosa Former Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District

The district started with hotspots for the short term, then planned to erect cell towers in some of the poorest communities around Dallas. By November 2020, there was a bond election, and the district received $40 million for Operation Connectivity.

READ MORE: Here’s how K–12 schools are narrowing the homework gap with connectivity solutions.

Training Students for High-Paying Careers

Hinojosa spoke with pride about bringing Pathways in Technology Early College High School to Dallas. Better known as P-TECH, the program (which originated in New York) brought together the school district, the local community college, and business and industry to train students for technology careers. Students could finish high school with IT credentials and an associate degree.

Participants have gone on to full-time, well-paying jobs. The program became so popular that there are now 26 P-TECH schools in the district.

Finally, Hinojosa spoke about bringing to Dallas career academies, where students who aren’t going to college or into P-TECH can get hands-on training for careers in aviation, construction, plumbing, welding and more.

“We have 9,000 seniors in Dallas ISD, and 1,100 of them walked across the stage with an associate degree, with all of their credentials on blockchain technology on their cell phones.”

RELATED: Learn how schools partner with businesses to train tomorrow’s IT workforce.

After sharing the many ways that education technology has helped reduce poverty through innovative school programs, Hinojosa, a Mexican immigrant, wrapped up his talk by encouraging attendees to “look to the past with pride.”

“Nothing great happens in the absence of enthusiasm,” he said. “If you’re not enthusiastic about your work, how are you going to get people on board?”

Join EdTech as we provide written coverage of TCEA 2023. Bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter @EdTech_K12.

Photography by Taashi Rowe

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