15 questions to ask about the technology leadership in your school district

2009leadershipday02For Leadership Day 2009, here are some key questions that I’d ask about the technology leadership function in any school district:

  1. Who is primary responsible for technology leadership in the district?
  2. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, who is the primary technology leader’s direct supervisor?
  3. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, does that person sit on the superintendent’s cabinet?
  4. If the answer to Question 1 is not the superintendent, how often does that person meet individually with the superintendent?
  5. How many other job titles (or what other job responsibilities) does the primary technology leader have?
  6. Is the primary technology leader in charge of both networking / hardware / software support AND technology integration or just one?
  7. Is technology leadership a shared function within the district or does it primarily reside in one person?
  8. How big is the differential between the primary technology leader’s salary and what she could make in a similar corporate environment?
  9. What kind of (and how much) professional development does the primary technology leader receive each year?
  10. How big is the differential between the technology staff:computer ratio and what occurs in a similar corporate environment?
  11. What percentage of technology-related expenditures go toward educator professional development?
  12. What percentage of the technologies purchased by the district were primarily student-centric (as opposed to teacher-centric)?
  13. When was the district’s last technology referendum? Did it pass? How close was the vote?
  14. When was the last time (if ever) that students were asked about their experiences using (or not using) technology in their classes? What did they say?
  15. And, what might be the most important question of all, how many minutes per week, on average, do students use digital technologies as part of their classroom learning experiences (and how do they spend those minutes)?

I’m sure that I could think of other questions too, but these are a good start. Here’s why the answers to these questions matter:

  1. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. No one else has the power to set and facilitate the district-wide vision for effective technology usage.
  2. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. The further down the org chart the primary technology leader sits, the harder it is for that individual to facilitate necessary change.
  3. If no, that’s the wrong answer. Not including the primary technology leader on the superintendent’s cabinet sends a message to the entire organization (and the outside world) that technology is nonessential.
  4. Ideally the primary technology leader would meet individually with the superintendent at least as often as the curriculum director, associate superintendent, business manager, and/or other top-level district staff. Desired frequency will vary by district, but I would say every few weeks at a minimum.
  5. Many primary technology leaders wear other hats (principal, superintendent, director of facilities, business manager, etc.). Effective technology leadership is a full-time job. I understand that many districts – particularly smaller ones – need to job share, but the more this person’s work is diluted across multiple titles and/or responsibilities, the less successful the district’s technology efforts will be. Guaranteed.
  6. If just one, that’s the wrong answer. Separating these functions is a potential recipe for disaster because it often leads to turf and/or resource conflicts, facilitates confusion by classroom teachers, results in the integration function being marginalized or nonexistent, and so on.
  7. Ideally the technology function is shared across the district. Effective change is much more likely to happen when many pull together.
  8. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader.
  9. Pay close attention to the number of days the primary technology leaders gets for her own professional learning. Also pay attention to whether those days are just focused on networking/hardware/software support versus technology integration, how to facilitate effective change within complex organizations, large societal/workforce shifts that will impact schools, building effective teams, and other non-technical, leadership-related topics.
  10. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader. Corporate computer:support staff ratios tend to range between 75:1 and 150:1. In K-12 education, ratios tend to be 300:1 or higher (and it is not uncommon to see 800:1 or worse).
  11. Ideally this number would be between 25% and 50%. A corollary question might be How much of the computer equipment that you’ve purchased doesn’t get used very often?
  12. The higher this percentage the better. It’s important for teachers to use computers. But it’s more important for students to use computers since they’re the ones that we’re supposedly preparing for their future lives.
  13. A lot of districts have trouble passing technology referenda. Sometimes they’re close, sometimes they’re not. Taking a look at how a district pitches its technology referenda to its local community can tell you a lot about the district, the community, or both.
  14. For most districts, the answer to this will be rarely or never. That’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is at least every year.
  15. For most districts, the answer to this rarely will be more than a couple of hours (and often will be less than one hour). That’s the wrong answer in a digital, global era.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the posts for this year!

12 Responses to “15 questions to ask about the technology leadership in your school district”

  1. a good list of questions.

    I alerted my head of school to Leadership Day 2009, and gave him links to your page, the summaries of the 2008 and 2007 days, and gave him a link that would direct him to Twitter’s search for “leadershipday09″.

    He wrote back this morning, thanking me for the connections and the the information. It’ll be interesting to see what shows up in my school’s planning this fall!

    Thanks for the leadership on creating Leadership Day.

  2. I agree with most of what you are saying here, but doesn’t your answer to question 5 contradict number 1? If the PRIMARY tech leader is the superintendent will there be enough tech leadership? I better agree with the technology leader being on the super’s “cabinet.” Advising the superintendent on the best path for technology in the district. In small districts this may not be possible, in which case I agree it should be the superintendent, but where possible doesn’t that configuration make more sense?

  3. I would have to guess that Iowa looks a great deal like my state, Wisconsin, in terms of demographics.

    More than half of our school districts are smaller than one of the high schools in my district.

    What does this mean? Small budgets and small schools usually lead to very small (often one-person) IT departments. Often times the person running those is a skilled IT professional, but does not always come with a school leadership background of preparation program.

    While that, in and of itself, would not be critical, the superintendents are often not very involved in the operation. I am, of course, speaking in generalities, as there are always exceptions, but for the most part, being a superintendent means one’s focus is pointed at other issues, and IT is just supposed to keep things running (so to speak).

    I am not placing a value judgment on this situation, but it seems to be a side-effect of small school districts and budgets.

    Even in larger districts, the chief technology person can look very different in roles and responsibilities.

    I am completely in agreement with your questions and answers – I just am afraid it describes an ideal situation which exists less than it should.

  4. @Chad Frerichs: Good point; I did contradict myself. Hopefully my statement still makes some sense. The superintendent shouldn’t be making day-to-day decisions regarding technology implementation and integration but should be the primary tech leader. I’ll have to think of a better way to say this…

  5. Question:
    6. Is the primary technology leader in charge of both networking / hardware / software support AND technology integration or just one?
    Answer:
    6. If just one, that’s the wrong answer. Separating these functions is a potential recipe for disaster because it often leads to turf and/or resource conflicts, facilitates confusion by classroom teachers, results in the integration function being marginalized or nonexistent, and so on.
    I disagree or maybe I misunderstand. I think it essential to have one person doing the networking / hardware and another person doing technology integration in the classroom. It really takes one type of personality to excel at the hardware and another type of personality at integrating software into the curriculum. One should be an IT person (as much as I grumble) and the other should be an educator (wish I had that position).

  6. I agree, mrsduff, that there is a split between IT responsibilities and tech integration. However, I think both parties need to be informed about each other’s area of expertise in order to work as a team.

    Your questions, Scott, are wonderful ones. What I wonder is whether we should be asking first if there is a Technology PLAN. It seems to me that a good Technology plan for a district would lay out the roles required for the technology infrastructure and technology integration to run successfully. Here in Philadelphia, I have yet to see a Technology Plan that includes many stakeholders and addresses not just infrastructure (the focus of our current plan) but the integration aspect as well. It took me a week just to track down ANY plan for our district.

    For me, the best solution would be for there to be a District-wide plan as well as individual school plans that follow the main goals of the District. The Superintendent, as you stated, would have to act as the main ‘leader’ in implementing this plan – making sure that everyone does his or her job. That would allow for delegation of responsibility to appropriate parties while still maintaining a connection to Tech integration and ensuring that district goals are tracked and met.

    I would be interested to hear from someone from a large district (we have over 200 schools) who has successfully implemented a plan or feels that they have successful leadership for technology integration.

  7. Thank you for posting the Q & A on your blog regarding technology leadership. Not only have you given technology leaders the questions they need to ask, but the answers they need to consider. I find your post extremely useful as I hope to be part of a successful technology program in my district working as a teacher and a technology specialist.

  8. These are wonderful questions, with the addition of the comments so far. Thanks. I often see a disconnect between the tech department’s desire for structure and the classroom (teacher/student) needs for access to 21st Century online networks (blogs, wikis, videos, apps like Glogster, Animoto, VoiceThread, Google Apps, etc.) which promote positive online etiquette as well as online learning. Another question might be: How responsive is the technology leader to the needs of the teacher to create student-centered-centric learning experiences? Or: How often does the technology leader collaborate with student-centric teachers to ensure student use of digital technologies as part of their classroom learning experiences? If the answer is weekly (to ensure smooth connections and integration), then the district is moving forward. Just a thought…

  9. Technology leadership should start with the superintendent and work its way down. I don’t believe that there should be a Computer/Technology Director. If there is, everyone with think that person is responsible. The only way technology can improve learning is if it is integrated by people who understand the discipline in question. There is no way one person can know enough about all subjects and grades to do this. Even so, there is still a risk of using new tools to accomplish the same old job. If the focus doesn’t shift from finding information to thinking and adding value to what is found, new technology won’t matter much.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD — DrDougGreen.Com

  10. @Mary Beth Hertz

    We have a little over 300 schools and are in the process of creating a blueprint plan. The goal is to have a plan that is differentiated by school, but will still lead to a general level of technological access. One of the big pushes in the plan is that ability to allow teachers and students to access our network using personal technology from handhelds to laptops. There is also a focus on PD for teachers.

    Of course the general standard is the case, those who hear the message are those already implementing best practice.

  11. Great questions for a certain size school district. This is very much Vendor/Enterprise IT oriented viewpoint.

    Corporate IT departments can spend a lot per user because the company can afford it. I order just one mid-range server at work for the same price that represents a years student pc purchases at the school.

    Budgets at some school districts are constrained to the point that student PCs are not supported nor will they be in the forseeable future.

    Technology spending K-5 should be highly strategic and focussed on getting most bang for the buck.

    Don’t fall for dreamy and magical digital pixie dust. There should be very specific answers on how pcs will improve spelling, reading etc.

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