At the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference in Seattle, NSBA introduced its 2008 list of “20 to Watch,” or 20 emerging leaders in educational technology. According to the organization, this list encompasses the most dynamic group of leaders they’ve ever recognized: from the director of technology for the Zuni Tribe’s school district to the first librarian to be mentioned on the list, all have helped students reach 21st-century educational goals.

Created in 2006, the “20 to Watch” list was intended to be a singular awards event; but after an enormous amount of positive feedback, NSBA decided to continue the program.

“This list is really for the people who haven’t yet emerged on the national stage,” explained Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for NSBA. “We always hear the names of the usual suspects—incredible people who have made so many advances in ed tech—but we need to help broaden the pool. This award is intended to help the new crop get their names out there.”

The process starts with an online submission. Participants must be nominated by their peers or supervisors, and each applicant must describe a tech-related initiative that his or her nominee is involved with, why the nominee is an emerging leader, and how the nominee’s curiosity with new technology is implemented in education.

Each category is weighted with points, and the review team consists of the previous year’s nominees, ed-tech industry veterans from across the United States, and some T+L Conference co-sponsors.

“I feel it is so important that school librarians are recognized as educators who are often on the cutting edge of using new technology with K-12 students,” said Kay Hones, librarian for Stevenson Elementary School in San Francisco and one of this year’s honorees. “As a school librarian, I am often the first to try a new technology and quickly find a way to use it with all students.”

A National Board certified teacher, Hones began teaching art in Detroit with 40 students. “I loved art and was thrilled teaching K-6 students drawing, painting, etc. Later when I worked as a librarian, first in Mississippi and now in San Francisco, I found I can combine my love of books and reading with art and technology,” she said.

Hones teaches five-year-olds to turn on computers, find the library’s home page, and use appropriate kindergarten web sites. She teaches third graders to find digital primary sources and the how-tos of blogging, and fourth and fifth graders to use Google Custom Search and to complete online book reviews.

She also produces a monthly newsletter for teachers that highlights online resources for all curricular areas, and she was chosen to participate in the Yahoo! Teachers of Merit program and to be the lead blogger on the official Yahoo! For Teachers blog.

“I believe test scores and literacy rates will improve when all students have equitable access to high-quality library programs, including books, media, electronic, and primary resources that support student interest as well as curriculum,” she said.

Cynthia Trujillo, director of technology for Zuni Public School District, agrees that equitable access to technology is a key to students’ future success.

The Zuni district, located in rural New Mexico, didn’t have the proper infrastructure to develop technology literacy skills. Trujillo says she had to “push aggressively, but finally got high-speed internet” access for her schools—two elementary, one middle, and two high schools—as well as computers.

“The community also didn’t have the ability to connect, so I worked with the local phone company, CenturyTel, to provide everyone access,” said Trujillo. “By being able to connect to the internet, we’ll be able to share our culture with others, and vice versa.”

Trujillo has pioneered a new student information system, uses PLATO Learning software for academic remediation, and even created a program in which high school students apply, interview, and are selected for a paid technology training program during the summer.

“Kids are gamers; they’re into this technology starting at such a young age. We need to start from the ground up and keep them motivated,” she explained.

Nominated by Tabula Digita, an educational gaming company, Celine Azoulay, Borough Instructional Technology Director from Staten Island, N.Y., also believes games are a great way to get students engaged in learning.

Incorporating Tabula Digita’s DimensionM math video game, which allows multiple users from anywhere in the world to play, Azoulay gets her kids to appreciate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

“Tabula Digita is aligned with New York state standards, and the multiple players keep the game fresh for my students; they’re always challenged,” said Azoulay. “Educational technology is no longer an add-on; it’s opening doors for creativity and innovation.”

She said the award, which her “whole team deserves,” was special to her because she could show it to her two daughters and say “look how much you can achieve in your life.”

Technology can “increase the level of engagement that individual students have with their school work,” said Jeremy Renner, technology resource teacher at Jefferson County Public School District in Kentucky. “There is a reverse correlation between the level of engagement and the dropout rate.”

For Renner, who was nominated by his supervisor, and who also credits his team (the Computer Education Support department) with the award, the biggest accomplishment of his career so far is the student Film Festival he started, which allowed teachers to witness the possibilities that were available with technology.

“It created an authentic and natural way for me to collaborate with them,” said Renner.

Besides creating a Technology Integration Project (TIP) that gave every full-time classroom teacher a Tablet PC, a multimedia projector, and hours of professional development, Renner also has implemented a one-to-one laptop project at the state’s lowest performing high school, served as an e-mentor, implemented a Parent Portal, provided classrooms with Google Tools, and introduced primary teachers to Ning—a build-it-yourself social network.

Another leader working with online tools is Karen Greenwood Henke, managing director of Nimble Press and a board member for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Recognizing the lack of discretionary funds for teachers, Henke—who was nominated by CoSN’s chief executive, Keith Krueger—launched www.grantwrangler.com, a free online listing service of grants and awards for teachers and students. This fall, an offshoot of the project, www.mygrantwrangler.com, will be the first social-networking site for both grant seekers and grant givers to share insights and experiences, she said.

Henke hopes to reach 1,000 members by the end of the school year.

“Other sites include government grants and large foundation grants, making it hard for teachers to find funding they can apply for. We also categorize our grants and have automatic archiving so that teachers can quickly find grants with current deadlines,” explained Henke.

Here are the other 20 to Watch winners:

• Jeremy Davis, Instructional Technology Coordinator, Anaheim City School District, California
• Rudy Duran, Superintendent, Windsor C-1 School District, Missouri
• Karol Galcik, Superintendent, Highlands School District, Pennsylvania
• Kristen Hernandez, Teacher, Carolyn Park Middle School, St. Tammany Parish Public School System, Louisiana
• Ryan Imbriale, Assistant Principal, Perry Hall High School, Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland
• Jim Klein, Director Information Services and Technology, Saugus Union School District, California
• A.J. McAdams, Teacher, Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana
• Thuan Nguyen, Executive Director of Information Technology, Kent School District, Washington
• Jan Pabitzky, Chief Information Officer, Geary County Unified School District 475, Kansas
• Matthew Putman, Teacher, Westfield High School, Westfield Washington Schools, Indiana
• Amber Rowland, Project Leader, ALTEC, University of Kansas
• Paul Sanfrancesco, Director of Technology, Garnet Valley School District, Pennsylvania
• Lenny Schad, Chief Information Officer, Katy Independent School District, Texas
• Gail Soriano, Technology Facilitator, Avoca School District 37, Illinois
• Nicole Vitale, Teacher, Cleveland Municipal School District, Ohio

All 20 leaders were to be recognized at an awards ceremony during NSBA’s annual T+L Conference. They also will participate in a thought leadership roundtable hosted by Kari Stubbs, director of professional development for ePals.

“I believe that technology is transforming the way we learn and what we need to know,” said Henke. “I hope I can use this [awards] recognition to bring that message to more people and to more organizations.”