Superintendents from Illinois, Arizona and Virginia said Tuesday empowering system chief technology officers to be creative and including them in digital decision-making helped their school districts have smoother transitions to online teaching and learning.
Three superintendents, speaking at a virtual Consortium for School Networking conference session Tuesday, said they met frequently with their CTOs and broader technology-focused staff to find solutions to remote learning barriers and to improve virtual learning and teaching experiences.
As school systems start planning for the 2021-22 school year and beyond, district leaders should be working with CTOs to improve flexible learning environments and boost on-campus experiences, the district leaders said.
Aaron Spence, superintendent of the 67,000-student Virginia Beach City Public Schools in Virginia Beach, Virginia, said clear and regular communication with his district’s CTO and broader leadership team helped his district respond strategically to the pandemic.
“It’s been such a valuable tool in terms of opening up the dialogue and kind of dismembering the silos and really creating an open flow of communication and ease of understanding of that decision-making process,” Spence said.
David Schuler, superintendent of the 12,000-student Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, added superintendents should put trust in a CTO’s skills and abilities to develop creative solutions for school systems. For example, his district's CTO and technology team rolled out mobile help desks in local parks and neighborhoods so students and families could get one-on-one, in-person technology support.
“That wasn't a Dave idea at all," Schuler said. "That came from the CTO because I said, ‘I need you and your team to figure out how can we better serve the needs of our families and our neighbors.' And so I think unleashing them is really, really important to dream.”
Schuler said the CTO-superintendent collaboration also has benefited his district as it scaffolded its technology approaches, first with access to hardware and internet connections, then to the availability of rigorous and engaging learning content, and finally to implementing monitoring, accountability and intervention systems.
Looking to the next school year, there is a continuing need for CTOs and superintendents to collaborate to ensure learning can take place efficiently and effectively at home and on school campuses, the district leaders said. Spence said his district has added a question to student enrollment forms that asks if the student has internet access at home. His district is also looking to improve tools for teachers instructing both in-person and virtual students.
Meanwhile, Kristi Wilson, superintendent of the K-8 Buckeye Elementary School District in Buckeye, Arizona, said her district has had 100% participation in virtual parent-teacher conferences during the pandemic and will coordinate with technology staff to continue that format post pandemic. Wilson also said superintendents and CTOs could collaborate on solutions to boost low student enrollment.
Wilson, Schuler and Spence said resources from CoSN and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, have been helpful as they’ve made their digital transformations.
Once the pandemic is over, Schuler said his district is planning to require every student take at least one online course so they can be successful with that format in college. Additionally, his district’s technology staff will be involved in offering virtual professional development meetings for staff.
“We learned some really great things from COVID,” Schuler said. “We learned that we can provide professional development without having to put subs in classrooms and have people drive to a central meeting place or drive to a separate school and that's something we're not going to give up for sure.”