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Superintendents turn to tech academies to boost skills

Administrators are seeking technology training to boost leadership skills.
Administrators are seeking technology training to boost their leadership skills.

As the need for tech-savvy students becomes more pressing, school leaders’ technology skills also must keep pace, and superintendents across the nation are enrolling in technology-focused professional development academies to ensure that their school districts don’t fall behind on technology integration.

The Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) is a statewide education technology service funded by the California Department of Education. All TICAL resources are matched to California state standards, as well as the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Technology Standards for Administrators. Arkansas also has a TICAL branch, which is funded by the Arkansas Department of Education.

TICAL’s online portal offers categorized annotated tools and resources that relate to 21st-century leadership used by administrators. Resources address data-driven decision making, technology integration in standards-based curriculum, professional development, technology planning, systems operations and maintenance, and financial planning.

TICAL “plays a critical role in helping California narrow the achievement gap by integrating new and relevant ways to increase academic rigor in the classroom through technology,” said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “These [statewide] programs represent the backbone of education technology in California and significantly have increased and enhanced the use of education technology in the classroom.”

Within the organization is the TICAL Cadre, a network of education leaders selected for their success and leadership skills. Cadre members contribute content to the online portal and also offer coaching for teaching and learning model implementation.

Online, administrators will find multimedia resources covering topics such as education technology funding, interactive whiteboards, podcasting, and closing the digital divide. The organization’s blog, TBLOGICAL, features posts about education technology from various school and district leaders.

Resources in the portal include publications, models, and examples, as well as links to people and organizations, software and hardware, and vendors. Matrices give users a visual approach to locating resources.

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan references TICAL as a leadership success story.

Another resource for superintendents, Technology Information Education Services (TIES), was created in 1967 to provide technology and information resources to school leaders, educators, and students. TIES is a joint-powers cooperative owned by 40 Minnesota school districts, and members represent about 400 schools.

Two representatives from each member district serve on the TIES Joint Board, and nine members of the Joint Board make up the executive committee, which implements and administers policies.

The TIES Superintendents Technology Leadership Academy is available to superintendents throughout Minnesota, although its first two-year run has a 20-participant limit. Academy sessions are funded by an Enhancing Education Through Technology grant.

TIES follows the Consortium for School Networking’s Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent initiative, which focuses on five themes for technology leadership:

• Strengthen district leadership and communications;
• Raise the bar with 21st-century skills;
• Transform pedagogy with compelling learning environments;
• Support professional development and communities of practice; and
• Create balanced assessments.

Superintendents in the TIES program learn about each of the five themes, with a full day-long session dedicated to each theme. They discuss the day’s theme with other superintendents in the morning, and an afternoon session brings the superintendents together with their own administrative team to brainstorm how that given theme applies in their district.

“It helps for them to be with other superintendents in the morning so that they can learn from each other and share practices,” said Betty Schweizer, TIES CEO.

“It’s a different experience for each of them. We have a wide variety of superintendents, and some of them are very tech-savvy already,” she added.

For instance, during a session about the first theme, which focused on strengthening district leadership and communications, superintendents created podcasts about their technology visions.

“For some, that was challenging,” Schweizer said. But the experience left an impression, and the superintendents “told us that they’re using more technology themselves,” she said.

Mark Robertson, director of the Northwest Suburban Integration School District and a former superintendent, said he uses his experience as a former superintendent to work with TIES in bridging the gap between the organization’s mission and what superintendents do in the field.

“It’s going great so far,” he said. “It gives superintendents an opportunity to really talk about things that are meaningful but aren’t related to budgets, staff, and day-to-day operations.”

He said the participating superintendents appreciate the research-based approach and value discussions focused on helping them become technology advocates.

“[The program has] provoked a lot of good discussions that superintendents bring back into their own districts once they leave,” Robertson said. “Technology has to be embedded in the way superintendents do things.”

“The more involved the superintendent is with the actual IT planning is helpful,” Schweizer added.

CoSN’s superintendent framework presents a “third wave” technology challenge in today’s districts. The first-wave challenge for education technology is infrastructure, such as networks, hardware, and access. The second wave is the supportive and enabling applications, such as student information systems and distance learning. The third wave, CoSN says, is transformative applications: integrating technology into every aspect of teaching and learning.

While superintendents don’t necessarily need to have in-depth involvement with the first two waves, their participation is essential for the third wave.

“It’s hard for superintendents to jump in, in the third wave, when they historically haven’t been involved in the first or second,” Schweizer said—which is where TIES can help.

“The world of superintendency, truth be told, can be very isolated,” Robertson said. “This is really helping model the 21st century. The collaborative dialog between districts is becoming powerful.”

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