The growing role CTOs play in advancing K-12 education

As the demand for technology in schools increases, so does the impact of the technology decision maker

The demand for K-12 school districts to implement technology that drives smarter decision-making for teachers and administrators has never been greater. However, given the demands facing school districts today, technology decisions often make their way to the collective back burner.

A chief technology officer’s (CTO) role centers on aligning technology strategies to an organization’s business objectives, but the position takes on different challenges and importance when it comes to connecting technology strategies to student performance.

Connecting technology to performance
The CTO position in K-12 is becoming more prevalent in the United States. In a 2017 study by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), 53 percent of technology leaders held senior-level titles (CTO, CIO, district technology director), as opposed to 43 percent in 2012.

CTOs are imperative to K-12 school systems as they have experience to strategically implement mission-critical technology for administrators, students, and teachers.

Data-driven decision-making is a challenge in education due to the lack of experienced professionals to guide the transition to and implementation of analytics tools. In fact, 70 percent of schools and districts don’t measure or can’t report on key performance metrics for things like talent-management activities.

CTOs can lead the way in transitioning K-12 schools from legacy, often manual, processes to new, more efficient digital tools that benefit educators, administrators, and students.

For example, Guy Bourassa, chief education technology officer at Enfield (CT) Public Schools, helped his district streamline performance-management processes by transitioning from paper-based processes to cloud-based software.

“I put together the information we needed to collect teacher evaluations, and I worked with principals and teachers to teach them how to manage the process using the software,” says Bourassa. “Now we can access and analyze data from evaluations to not only improve teaching, but also to drive student achievement. We couldn’t do that without technology.”

In addition to championing and managing the implementation of tools that drive efficiency and greater insight into processes, experienced CTOs see the bigger picture and understand that data and security are becoming a major factor for K-12 schools. In the same 2017 CoSN study, 62 percent of IT leaders ranked cybersecurity and privacy as more important concerns than previous years.

As these issues come to the forefront of education, schools need an experienced technologist to help them navigate and meet compliance standards.

What makes a K-12 CTO successful?
Beyond having a passion for technology, CTOs should also have a passion for making a difference in the lives of children, teachers, and the entire education system. Without this, they cannot make a truly meaningful impact on their community.

As Bourassa put it, “My job is to help teachers, students, and administrators succeed. I try every day to make them look good.”

It’s also important that CTOs have an innate curiosity to help school districts problem-solve and appropriately use technology to solve school and districtwide challenges. They need to have a desire to drive positive change and provide answers to questions surrounding the future role of technology in K-12 education.

Because K-12 education is complex with various areas of impact and influence—students, teachers, parents, lawmakers, etc.—CTOs must develop and deploy technology strategies that appeal to each group.

To facilitate innovation and technological advancement, getting buy-in is crucial. CTOs should show their respective administrations, teachers, and students a vision and roadmap for achieving their goals in improving use of technology in K-12 education.

Paving the way for technology advancement
With the proper guidance from a CTO, schools can implement technology that has the power to harness data to increase efficiency in hiring and professional development, while also empowering teachers and driving student growth.

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