School technology leadership: Essential elements for success

For one thing, the demand for accountability and the need to apply only research-based practices in education has the press and the public looking for clear evidence of success–and, for better or worse, this evidence is going to have to take the shape of higher test scores. And although there have been pockets of ed-tech success that exist and have been documented, the big-picture view, which has been more widely reported, is that upwards of $50 billion in school technology investments over the last decade have produced largely flat test scores or only marginal gains nationwide.

Add to this backdrop the federal leadership on educational technology, which sends the message that technology isn’t as important as other priorities. As many of you are probably aware, the budget proposal for fiscal year 2006 that President Bush sent to Congress calls for the dissolution of the $500 million Enhancing Education Through Technology block-grant program, which for many states is their only source of school technology funding to local districts.

The proposed elimination of the ed-tech block grant program comes at a time when most school leaders would agree that technology is essential to meeting the demands of No Child Left Behind. Without sophisticated assessment and data analysis programs to track students’ progress toward mastery of state standards; without software to manage your districts’ professional development initiatives and keep track of which teachers need which interventions to ensure they remain or become highly qualified; and without learning systems that can deliver individualized instruction targeted to each student’s own unique needs, there is no way you’ll be able to satisfy all of the law’s requirements.

The federal Education Department says there are plenty of alternate sources of funding in the proposed budget to help pay for these kinds of programs. But we all know that’s just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

All of this leads to me to my point, which is that this new landscape requires a certain skill set that is essential for successful school technology leadership today. It’s no longer just enough to have a clear vision for technology, or a keen understanding of how it works and how it can pay dividends for your schools and your students. Successful school technology leadership today requires a number of other skills, too, such as creativity and flexibility. For example, you must be creative and innovative enough to find sources of funding outside the federal or state budget, and you must be flexible enough to adjust your plans accordingly if a certain program doesn’t work.

You also need top-notch communication skills. You need to be able to articulate your vision for technology to stakeholders and mobilize support. You need to be proactive in your communication with stakeholders and members of the press. And you need to be media-savvy, utilizing the internet and other technology tools at your disposal. As our Stakeholder and Community Relations columnist, Nora Carr, likes to say, if you can’t reach the people who matter most in your district within minutes, then you can’t compete successfully with today’s wired, 24-7 news media, elected officials, and other groups who might–or might not–have your own best interests at heart.

Of course, an essential part of good communication is the ability to listen. You need to listen to those around you and involve all stakeholders–parents, students, teachers, and business leaders–in your technology planning. Involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process might prevent a situation like what happened in Sutter, for example.

Most of all, you need to be committed. I don’t mean institutionalized, though after your years at the helm of a public school system, that might be an option. Rather, you need to commit the proper resources to make sure that your technology investment pays off, including adequate training and support to ensure the technology is used to its full potential.

It is because you exemplify these qualities, and many more, that you have been chosen as our Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners for 2005. And I would add one final reason, too. You all lead by example, not only within your districts but by your words and actions on a state or national level. I urge you to continue to do so, to provide much-needed examples of school technology success for the rest of the nation to follow. With more stories like yours, this new landscape I’ve described might change in a hurry. We’re proud to be able to highlight your successes, and we hope you’ll continue to do so, too.

Dennis Pierce is the managing editor of eSchool News.

Dennis Pierce

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