Admins need PD too— Insights on CoSN’s CTO Academy

What does it take to run the tech for a school district in 2024? A lot more than resetting the router. At #CoSN2024 next week, a cohort of news CTOs will convene as part of the year-long CTO Academy. Kelly Sain, Thompson School District (CO) CTO, was gracious enough to give eSchool some details. She emphasizes the evolving role of a CTO, moving beyond technical aspects to focus on improving student learning experiences through technology; Stresses the necessity of digital access and equity for students and the integration of technology into curricula; And underscores the value of collaborative learning and mentorship provided by programs like the CTO Academy in addressing challenges and staying updated with industry trends. Have a listen.

Details for the program: The CTO Academy For K-12 Early Career and Aspiring CTOs is a program to address the needs of education technology leaders who are new (less than four full years) to their CTO or Technology Leadership position or aspiring CTOs and EdTech leaders currently working in a technology department. Participants will have the opportunity to develop edtech leadership skills including; managing diverse teams, leading a variety of projects simultaneously, and collaborating with a variety of stakeholders. Academy participants make a positive impact on student-centered and digital learning in their school district and enhance their career trajectory.


00:00:04 Speaker 1 

OK, Kelly, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. 

00:00:08 Speaker 2 

Thank you. I’m very happy to be a part of the opportunity. 

00:00:13 Speaker 1 

And I know that I’m. I’m pulling you out of of spring break and the various things that you do not have to be talking about, which is Ed Tech and the you know, the responsibilities of of being a CTO, but. 

00:00:26 Speaker 1 

You know, as we get ready for Miami next week for for codes in 2024, I really just wanted to kind of get some insights from you about one particular aspect of the show which I think is intriguing. 

00:00:42 Speaker 1 

You know, when we talk about professional development here at East School, we’re we’re always talking about professional development for. 

00:00:47 Speaker 1 

Equity and the importance of having those sort of learning resources for teachers and for faculty a lot of times, though, I think what gets overlooked is the need for professional development when it comes to administrators and specifically tech directors. 

00:01:08 Speaker 1 

I know it’s an essential part of, you know, as technology advances so quickly and and things change and responsibilities change. But I think sometimes it it gets overlooked. 

00:01:18 Speaker 1 

Talk a little bit about the CTO Academy with Cozen and how that has enabled your work. 

00:01:27 Speaker 2 

So I was elated when I found out that I was a part of the CTO Academy. 

00:01:34 Speaker 2 

I have been working with Cosin underneath the director of Ed Tech role for a while, but then when I took on the CTO role it was essential for me to learn some different parts and aspects of Ed Tech and IT in a case where 12. 

00:01:48 Speaker 2 

Permanent. So this was essential to me. The biggest piece that they have done so well is each time that we meet, you know, we have an opportunity to learn some experts. So people who have already gone down this road, whoever maybe encountered the challenges that we are currently facing in our roles right now. 

00:02:09 Speaker 2 

And then it also allows us to break off and talk and visit with some other individuals. So you get that, you know, big picture thinking and then you get to dive deeper and make some new connections and create your own professional learning network. 

00:02:24 Speaker 1 

And I guess you know probably in the in the the past two or three years especially I mean things have accelerated and changed so much. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve seen your role change now? I think I’ve you’ve had different positions in the in the past few years get in get into a little bit of. 

00:02:42 Speaker 1 

Anecdotal detail of when you started to think about being a CTO and where you are now and what are some of these things, the surprises. 

00:02:53 Speaker 2 

So, I mean, I’ve always been involved in educational technology, you know, been a classroom teacher, came through 12, taught pretty much at every grade level. And you know, did a computer lab for a long time. But really where the piece that excites me the most is how it affects students and to see the impact. 

00:03:13 Speaker 2 

On everyday life for our students, my students would frequently tell me so. If I’m turning it in to you, it’s ready to go. If I have to publish it on the website, I need to work a little bit more so that authentic audience that real purpose for our. 

00:03:28 Speaker 2 

Students is amazing, and so I’ve seen us expand. You know, I think when you looked at COVID and everyone had to look at 1:00 to 1:00 environment in a very different way and making sure that everyone has digital access and equity, the role of the CTO I think has changed. 

00:03:48 Speaker 2 

And is not just about the. 

00:03:52 Speaker 2 

Tools and boxes and wires and a stable Internet and data security. And those pieces. It’s all about how we’re affecting the learning experiences of students and how we’re we’re making sure that we’re connected into the learning side of the house so that we are making sure that we use. 

00:04:12 Speaker 2 

Whatever technology we have as a tool. 

00:04:16 Speaker 1 

Interesting. Interesting. Now talk a little bit more about maybe kind of the the changing behaviors of students as a result of of COVID in terms of the way in which you manage a district. 

00:04:33 Speaker 2 

So you know you you’ve covered what has happened during the pandemic and and the quick change that we all had to make really quickly and now with us, our sons, you know not being continued some discussed discussions and decisions about making sure that we still have digital access and equity is important. 

00:04:52 Speaker 2 

To our students. And then when you look at the advent of AI and all kinds of other pieces that keep on coming forward, you know it’s really essential that our students do have the opportunity to learn using technology as. 

00:05:07 Speaker 2 

Tool curriculum has gone digital. You know we have SAT test now in a digital format, so it isn’t a nice to have anymore. It’s a requirement for our students to be successful. 

00:05:19 Speaker 1 

Yeah. Yeah. So also talk a little bit about, it’s obvious what you’re going to bring to. 

00:05:25 Speaker 1 

The table it. 

00:05:26 Speaker 1 

Sounds like you know you’ve had a lot of experiences over the the the past few years. Let me ask you this. So what are you hoping to come away with? Are there any parts? 

00:05:38 Speaker 1 

Regular issues or topics that you are looking for answers or or or guidance from the Academy and from the cosine show at large. 

00:05:50 Speaker 2 

So I would say there isn’t a time that I haven’t met with the chosen Academy and during our sessions I have prioritized to make sure that I’m there in attendance because. 

00:05:59 Speaker 2 

It is so valuable, you know, they’ve brought in experts from how to deal with E rate, how to deal with cybersecurity and then what I think is so powerful is you’re creating that professional learning network, you know, as a Singleton, you’re the only CTO for your district. It’s really important that you meet and connect with somebody else so that you could particularly ask questions. 

00:06:23 Speaker 2 

Because I guarantee you someone else has solved the current problem that you are facing right now. So why not grow your your network so that you could ask because many times it’s just right. So if you’re in the thick of that problem, you might not be able to see beyond the weeds so other people talk about what they did, how they accomplished it. Here are the resources that they used. 

00:06:45 Speaker 2 

It saves you so much time and effort and allows you to learn from the benefits of others I guess, or you know, or what they what their successes were and what were the obstacles that they faced and how do you address some of those obstacles? That’s essential. 

00:07:02 Speaker 2 


00:07:03 Speaker 1 

Yeah, and it it’s great. You know, as someone who observes this industry and and gets to kind of mingle with professionals such as yourself, one of the great parts is is that everyone is really. 

00:07:17 Speaker 1 

Encouraging in in terms of sharing those best practices, I’ve spent some time in different industries where I mean this idea of of getting together and kind of showing each other your cards would just be. 

00:07:30 Speaker 1 

Not happening right? 

00:07:31 Speaker 2 

Well, and the way that they set it up is so nice in the sense of you get a topic ahead of time. You can talk and collaborate within our learning management system. You’re visiting with additional folks. And I would say that the leaders who are leading the Academy right now are very dynamic. 

00:07:52 Speaker 2 

And a lot of fun. And so it makes it easy to ask the questions and feel supported by being vulnerable with the challenges that you’re facing, but also understand that you have support. The biggest piece also is, I mean you receive a mentor and that mentor, that one-on-one time has been. 

00:08:12 Speaker 2 

Essential for some additional questions as you move forward. So not only are you getting the group time together, but you’re also getting that one-on-one mentorship from someone who’s. 

00:08:22 Speaker 2 

Bending your shoes. 

00:08:23 Speaker 1 

Right, right. So for any readers or listeners here that are are are listening to this conversation, what are the steps to apply for or be accepted to the Academy? 

00:08:37 Speaker 2 

I’m. I’m not sure what the steps would be for next year, so I would have to look at it, but it was a form that we had to. 

00:08:43 Speaker 2 

Fill out and you answered some questions and then you know I received a letter of recommendation from my supervisor, which was the Superintendent, and then you applied based upon your questions. And then I received this wonderful e-mail that says, hey, you’re in and and then I, you know, booked the times that were available. 

00:09:06 Speaker 2 

It’s it’s pretty amazing to watch. You know, I’m not in one of the states that has an entire Academy for the whole state. Yeah, but the idea that we still get to collaborate and and connect on different topic topics is essential for everyone to feel like you have a support group and you can talk to somebody. 

00:09:24 Speaker 1 

Well, that’s great stuff. It sounds like next week is going to be. 

00:09:29 Speaker 1 

Certainly. Hopefully great for you in. In terms of your own personal learning journey. I know for me it’s going to be great to be able to kind of look over everyone’s shoulder and and and figure out what are the latest and greatest topics that are that are affecting your work and and your kids. 

00:09:49 Speaker 1 

I look forward to meeting you in person and and continuing this conversation. So thanks again for your time, Kelly. 

00:09:56 Speaker 2 

Thank you very much. 

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