This year's Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards were the toughest yet to judge.

Default Lines column in eSchool News, February 2010—Former Notre Dame University President Theodore Hesburgh was quoted as saying, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.” Skillful leaders are able to articulate that vision clearly and inspire their communities to action—and the winners of our annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards epitomize this idea.

The awards honor the nation’s top senior school district executives for their outstanding leadership and vision in education technology. This year marks the 10th anniversary of our groundbreaking awards program. I’ve been involved in the process for all 10 years, and I can honestly say this year’s awards were the toughest yet to judge.

We received nearly 400 nominations from districts from coast to coast, and nearly all of these were worthy of inclusion. That’s a good sign for the nation’s schools, I think.

For all the talk about how our schools are failing to meet the needs of today’s students, there are many hundreds of school systems whose leaders understand the evolving nature of 21st-century teaching and learning. It seems that being a “tech savvy” K-12 education leader is no longer an exception—and that’s a clear change from when we launched our awards program a decade ago.

Being a “tech savvy” superintendent doesn’t mean you can set up a school network or write lines of code to support your Moodle installation—at least, not necessarily. Instead, it means you understand how technology can be used to improve instruction and streamline school operations. It means you recognize how technology can be used as a tool to meet the strategic goals of your district, rather than as an end in itself.

A tech-savvy superintendent recognizes technology’s importance and commits sufficient resources in the district’s budget to sustain it. He or she insists that adequate professional development is a component of every ed-tech initiative, and that this training must be ongoing and target teachers’ specific needs—rather than a series of isolated, hit-or-miss workshops.

Tech-savvy superintendents also think strategically about the long-term challenges and opportunities that technology presents in their districts and in education at large. They build a vision of sustainability into their technology plans by budgeting for the life cycle of computers and taking into account their total cost of ownership. They recognize that new developments and advancements in technology occur rapidly and are ready to adjust their plans accordingly.

Tech-savvy superintendents ensure that ed-tech resources are distributed equitably among students and staff members. They also use technology to provide greater equity in the delivery of educational services to students and families in an effort to close the performance gap between students of different backgrounds.

Tech-savvy superintendents demonstrate curiosity and open-mindedness in considering emerging technologies and weighing non-traditional solutions to traditional problems. They’re not afraid to try unique approaches to using technology for meeting the specific needs and goals of their districts.

Finally, tech-savvy superintendents model the effective use of technology in their day-to-day activities, and their leadership extends beyond the borders of their school system. They might participate in conferences or other activities outside their districts, for example, or they might extend their own ed-tech resources to other local schools or education agencies.