Mar 02 2021

CoSN2021: 3 Superintendents Describe the Benefits of Working with CTOs

Distance and hybrid learning required new ways of thinking in these districts, where superintendents worked with IT leaders to succeed.

With the future of education looking increasingly hybrid, the need for strong IT leadership has never been greater for K–12 school districts.

Last year, realizing that they couldn’t lead their districts through the remote learning shift alone, superintendents worked closely with IT leadership to bring their teachers and students online. Now, as educators continue adjusting to hybrid learning models and begin planning for the future, those relationships remain critical to the success of K–12 education.

With this in mind, three superintendents shared their success stories and advice for working with CTOs during CoSN2021’s session on “Practical Ways CTOs and Superintendents Can Improve Today’s Learning Environment.”

Guided by Ann McMullan, host and moderator of The EmpowerED Superintendent edWebinar Series, the discussion featured Kristi Wilson, superintendent of Buckeye Elementary School District 33 in Arizona; Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools in Virginia; and David Schuler, superintendent of High School District 214 in Illinois.

Together, the group addressed the importance of trust, communication, collaboration and flexibility in their relationships with their respective districts’ CTOs and IT staff.

How Can Superintendents and CTOs Pave the Way to Successful Digital Learning?

When it comes to digital learning success, all three guests agreed that collaboration between superintendents and IT leaders is imperative.

“You must have trust in your CTO,” Schuler said. “You must also unleash them to dream and to have new ideas.”

Using his own district as an example, Schuler explained that trusting his CTO to find creative solutions yielded ideas he would not have thought of on his own. For instance, at his CTO’s suggestion, Schuler’s school implemented mobile help desks, taking the IT guidance families needed to neighborhoods and parks throughout his district in Illinois.

Spence also lauded the importance of relying on his CTO for guidance and on having regular meetings to find solutions. “You need to have clear, consistent, regular communication,” he said.

Beyond communicating, Wilson acknowledged the importance of strategy. Strategic conversations with her school’s CTO, she said, resulted in smarter planning and investments for the district’s future.

DISCOVER: 5 tips for an effective hybrid instruction experience.

How Did Collaboration with IT Leaders Aid the Pivot to Remote Learning?

As the elementary schools in Wilson’s district transitioned between fully remote and hybrid learning, their increased reliance on technology was made manageable by her IT staff’s flexibility. Adaptability, she explained, was crucial.

In his own district, Schuler focused on a more scaffolded approached with the help of IT leadership. They focused first on providing students with hardware and access, he said, then on offering engaging content and accountability. He also noted that it was critical to provide staff with IT help at the start of the pandemic.

For Spence, collaboration among the CEO, CTO and IT staff required a clear discussion of the challenges they were facing. Instead of just giving an answer to a problem, Spence asked the IT leaders to devise creative solutions. In doing so, he said, “you create this space where a lot of creativity happens, and a lot of trust gets built, and people feel really empowered to make good decisions for kids.”

What Strategies Can CTOs and Superintendents Use for the Upcoming Year and Beyond?

Looking ahead, Schuler believes the guidance of his CTO will be vital when planning for the future. Going into the next school year, he said, “some of our sophomores have never set foot in our classrooms.” This realization gives his leadership team an opportunity to rethink school culture and onboarding.

Schuler also highlighted the benefits of technology in regard to professional development for teachers. With challenges and opportunities continuing to emerge, Schuler stressed the importance of forging the path alongside IT leaders. “All it can do is help all of us move forward,” he said.

Wilson, meanwhile, is looking at using technology differently in the next school year and beyond, and to continue working with her district’s CTO to innovate. Her district is “knee-deep in the building of a new school that is very heavily technology focused.”

Likewise, Spence said he plans to continue involving his CTO and IT staff in strategic conversations. Broadening his decision-making team allows his district to provide flexible learning environments, whether inside or outside of the classroom.

EdTech is covering CoSN2021, so keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage. Follow @EdTech_K12 on Twitter for live updates and join the conversation using #CoSN2021.

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