1. Who Is Missing from the Conversation?
Denise Musselwhite, CEO and founder of Tech & Thrive and board chair for the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, said that throughout her 20-year career in K–12, she was often assumed to be an assistant or note taker as one of the only Latina IT leaders in rooms of mostly white men.
When vendors or other people approached the school district about doing business, they did not immediately treat her as an IT decision-maker.
Kenneth Thompson, who is Black, a former CIO and now deputy superintendent for operations at San Antonio Independent School District, had a similar experience: He said that he previously served as CIO at school districts in Atlanta and Baltimore, and recalled that one vendor didn’t even acknowledge his team when meeting to discuss a $50 million contract.
Musselwhite said that representation matters.
“My story is about who’s not in the room with you when you’re making those really big decisions,” she said. “And what impressions are you giving to your vendors and value-added partners about what leadership looks like in technology? Who’s missing from that conversation?”
She said that it is a districtwide responsibility to create opportunities for women and people of color to be in decision-making positions with vendors.
2. Consider the Community When Hiring
Tami Lundberg, a white, female CTO at Fresno Unified School District, believes that school leadership, including IT and instructional roles, should reflect the community.
“Who is it that you serve?” she said. “That should be your goal around creating diversity. That really gives you the right lens to figure out what your team should look like.”
This approach is particularly critical in Fresno, where IT leaders work directly with parents through the district’s family learning and technology support centers. One of the services they provide is digital awareness training. Lundberg said that having the right diversity of staff influences how effectively they can serve the community.