The theme for the Denver 2013 School CIO Summit was on facilitating change. This event
offered innovative school leaders the opportunity to exchange conversations about how they
have become change agents in their districts, including how they overcame challenges or
manage existing challenges. This conversation culminated in an activity facilitated by School
CIO Advisors Henry Thiele and Carl Hooker, who challenged the group to put their ideas
into action through an activity that allowed them to create their dream school district.
Special thanks to our event sponsors Amplify Access, Amplify Learning,
Google in Education, HP, Intel, Lightspeed Systems, and Gaggle.
School CIO Summit:
At the Denver SchoolCIO Summit in September, Tech & Learning advisors Carl Hooker
and Henry Thiele posed a unique challenge to the attendees: building a dream school
despite myriad challenges. Here was the setup:
CONGRATULATIONS! The year is 2018 and YOU are
the winners of a prestigious award for being a part of the
greatest district transformation ever. You are looking back
on the last five years and realize it all started that fateful
day back in September of 2013. Immediately following
the Denver School CIO Summit, you were recruited
(because of the innovative thinking you shared at that summit) to be a part of
Utopia USD. Utopia is a medium-sized district with quite the digital divide and
budget issues. When you came in, they lacked visionary leadership and had a
very unsupportive community when it came to social media and ubiquitous
technology. The press didn’t help. In the spring of 2013, a teacher tweeted out
a comment about the lack of direction in Utopia USD and was fired, which the
press took and ran with. There were also widespread rumors and fears about
inappropriate social media communications between teachers and students,
cyberbullying, and older technology sitting unused in closets.
|Tech & Learning Program Director Judy Salpeter introduces the morning panelists.
Shortly before you were hired, the board of education developed a new
strategic plan that provided the challenge to prepare all members of the Utopia
learning community with 21st-century skills that would transform teaching
and learning in the classroom and would prepare students to build on those
skills throughout their lives. What did you and your team do in your particular
area of expertise to achieve so much in those five years and to transform Utopia
USD into the magical district that it has become?
Each participant was assigned to a table, and each table had a specific task.
Here’s how they responded to the challenge.
1. Budget, sustainability, and
communication with parents and
To put in place strategies and policies that ensured continued funding for success,
the Utopian USD leadership team convened a team of board members, business
partners, site faculties, and the voting constituency
to work on the plan. This team conducted a survey
of school board members, parents, teachers, and
students to assess the community’s goals for the
district. This survey helped define best practices
for existing tools, as well as the identifying key
new technologies and techniques that could help
support these specific goals.
|Above: Carl Hooker and Henry Thiele lead the group discussion; Below left: Jean Tower, Director of Technology of the Public Schools of Northborough & Southborough in MA.; Below right: David Rose, Director Educational Technology & Library Media Services, District of Columbia Public Schools, DC
After gathering this data, every department
head generated and completed an inventory of
what they were currently managing and a chart
of the expected refresh rates for those assets.
From there, the leadership team fine-tuned
a clear vision and developed a plan to get the
district from where they were to where they
wanted to be.
The key components to this plan included:
* Use scalable language like “classroom
technology “ rather than “laptops.”
* Ensure sustainability by evaluating longterm
costs of leasing versus buying. Make
sure the agreement is a true lease and not
a lease to buy. Lease the hardware and
* Be creative with the budget. Use general
funds for the strategy to avoid grant
fund sorrows. Use the food program to
generate profits to build up the general
fund for the strategy.
* Write tech levies that specify what the
district can do with the funds and sell the
“why” through best practice stories.
Build a model to sell your story. Use finite
funds to build a model classroom project
that inspires positive press. Use this
model and publicity to secure community
support via levies.
* Work with your vendors. Ask legacy
vendors to re-evaluate leasing fees to free
up funds for new purchases.
* Keep writing grants. Despite the finite
nature of grants, keep writing them for
projects like solar energy, which can also
result in tax rebates.
The leadership team shared the resulting
success stories at town hall meetings, focus
groups, PTO meetings, and sub-council meetings
where sponsored guest speakers presented
specific topics. They posted Twitter feeds from
board meetings to gather community input,
discuss plans, and share ideas. The board
meetings rotated between each school site and
used various social media tools to encourage
remote collaboration in real time. All of this
information was also shared with the entire
community through e-mail reports and on
the school Web site, including short videos
designed to further engage the parent and school
Because the board of education,
administration, and community were engaged
in the development of a clear vision and making
a specific plan to turn that vision to action, they
had the ownership required to support the plan.
2. Infrastructure and
The Utopian USD leadership team started with
two main premises:
* Infrastructure is a utility—it’s like
electricity. It just works; you don’t
* Infrastructure is also ubiquitous—it flows
with the device and is not limited to a
|The discussion gets lively as attendees compare notes from their work groups.
The kinds of devices these attendees
wanted to see in this school were all “intelligent
structures.” In this school, everything becomes
technology, such as walls, surfaces, and wearable
technology. All data analysis is automated.
The technology and infrastructure required the
* Must be robust, scalable, high speed,
reliable, always on, and flexible.
* Must have a fiber backbone and have
both a wired and wireless network.
* Must be secure and include a firewall,
intrusion detection, and prevention.
* Most of the infrastructure should be in
* All programs must be interoperable and
* Minimal print services will be needed.
* School facilities are flexible workspaces
to support new ways of learning.
* Other devices include 3D printing, school
robotics, wearable technology (featuring
location embedded chips), telepresence
robots, gamification, exercise facilities,
and immersive virtual worlds.
The technology at Utopia USD would be
used for learning, collaboration, and efficiency.
Everyone at the school will use these
cloud-based resources—not just student or
teachers. The environment will offer ubiquitous
computing. The technology is always on,
regardless of the users’ location or type of device.
3. Teaching and learning
The Utopian USD team recreated the learning
spaces in all schools. They tore out walls,
eliminated traditional “classrooms” and put in
flexible furniture that is movable, multi-use,
modular, and wheeled. They eliminated bells
and seat time, and gave students a
flexible schedule that requires them
to be present when they need to be.
Here how this change affected different
communities at the school:
|Greater Clark Schools (IN)’s Director of Technology Brett Clark reports on the highlights from his work group.
Students: The idea labs and
common areas are all task-specific
spaces—students flow in and out to
craft things with a resource (i.e., an
available teacher or an expert). The
focus is on competency-based learning.
Students are connected to a team or
they may have multiple teams going
with multiple projects. Students may
meet with 20-25 adults in the course
of a project and tap into community
experts. Their student-led schedules
will be fluid to meet those needs. These
schedules could include an unscheduled
lunch, meeting in common areas for
lunch, asking teachers for on-demand
answers, and completely redefining the
definition of dual enrollment. Students
may matriculate when they have shown
they are ready. Their grade structure
has been reconsidered and their personalized
learning and student portfolio travels with them
Teachers: Teachers guide groups of
students as necessary. The teacher day is also
non-structured and projects are not based on
a time model. Instead, the teacher focuses on
the outcomes of the group. Teachers have a
caseload or advisory team that includes multiple
instructional leaders. Professional mentors are
brought in to join an integrated advisory class
built on service learning and career experience.
Mentors are assigned to students to provide
personalized support designed to create a
broader path for students to prepare for life
after high school, whether that path be college
or a career. Technology is used to reduce record
keeping and assessment tasks for teachers so
they can spend more time on higher-order
4. Professional learning
and staff communication
At Utopian USD, the administration
recognizes that adults learn and grow just like
students do, so they apply the following
pedagogy to their PD:
* Learning doesn’t start and end with the
school bells—for teachers or for kids
* Apply a differentiated approach
* Encourage the teachers to value the
learning more than the hours
* Encourage all of the “adults”—not just
teachers, but all staff—to collaborate
with each other, as well as with parents,
students, and other school community
members. This collaboration is
encouraged through using social media,
personalized modules, face-to-face
opportunities, webinars, and bringing in
experts to teach students, such as doctors
and college professors.
|Left: Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer, Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, LA; Right: Lydia Dobyns, President of the New Tech Network based in Napa, CA.
PD learning is 24/7 to allow for self-paced,
flexible opportunities to match any schedule. PD
events include PD in your PJs, job-embedded
coaching, and lunch and learn programs—all
of which are structured to support a variety of
5. Standards and
The team at Utopian USD assesses
Common Core standards and Next Gen science
standards (with a heavy dose of the 4 C’s) using
the following accountability methods:
* They assess their students by using
problem- or project-based learning
portfolios. They use many types of
assessments, recognizing one test does
not fit all students.
* They use a dashboard for district-level
administrators that provides principals
with the data feedback needed to
provide professional development as
* They use a bank of common formative
assessments that are graded and scored
by teachers to inform best practice.
* They use Universal Design for Learning
to meet the multiple needs of students.
* Teachers and students work together on
assessment and data analysis process,
including dialogues about IEPs.
* There are no grade levels. They have
shifted to a “Center for Learning”
environment that advances students
based on mastery of skills.
|The infrastructure committee discussed what the ideal facility bones would include.
While the Utopia USD experiment focused on
a fictional district in the not-so distant future, the
reality of it is not that far fetched. Communication
between all areas and groups is paramount.
Flexibility was a term that came up in almost
all groups. From funding to furniture, devices to
student schedules, having buildings that were
adaptable to change and differentiated learning
styles was of upmost importance. In the end,
we put to our readers: Which is Utopia USD? A
futuristic, fictional dream scenario or a reality that
can happen in the near future?
“What’s the ultimate expression of human knowledge? Writing. It’s our greatest strength as a species and the ultimate expression of being educated. Our
Inspired Writing program emphasizes authentic writing experiences, professional development for teachers, and a 1:1 program in English language arts. We
focus on developing the most effective and powerful writers we can among our learners. Currently, our students produce 20,000 Google docs a month. They
blog, write in Word, and 300 2nd-grade students recently completed a Google Docs pen pal project in which they collaborated two to three times a day.
After implementing this program, we saw at 14% gain in student achievement.”
—Dan Maas, Chief Information Officer, Littleton (CO) Public Schools
“This year many of our textbooks have an online component. The infrastructure has been updated for BYOD and a possible 1:1 program. We have purchased
400 iPads for the district according to subject area, such as 30 for language arts, 30 for social studies, and 30 for science. We also purchased 700 Chromebooks
for preparation for the Common Core and PARRC. Due to a Hurricane Sandy grant, the district received an additional $769,000 for preparation of the PARCC
assessments, including the infrastructure for 100,000 per student. With this requirement, Sayreville will need 650 MB of Internet access. At present the district only
has 100MB for Internet access. We are upgrading our firewall and upgrading to 1 GB of Internet access. [We] will also purchase an additional 1,800 Chromebooks for the district,
hopefully by December 2013. Sayreville will be participating in the field testing of the PARCC assessment in March and May 2014. Currently, we offer online courses in AP Physics, AP
Statistics, AP Psychology, AP Micro/Macro Economics, AP Calculus, and Managerial Accounting for our high school students. We are looking into e-textbooks in the coming school
year. The district uses Nooks for Internet access and as e-readers. Many of our language arts teachers use books that are in the curriculum on the district Nooks.”
—Sandra Paul, Director of Technology, Sayreville (NJ) Public Schools
“Five years ago, we
began a teacher training
program that requires
every teacher to attend
a three-hour technology
workshop each summer. This was fully
supported by our board. I work with the
technology director and the curriculum
department to develop the curriculum
for this training. We have a district wiki
for our curriculum to which teachers
contribute. It holds all supplemental
material as well. Two years ago we
completely revamped our take on
the elementary computer lab class. I
have written the curriculum for all K-6
students. Topics now include Famous
People in Computers (taught in grades
K-4), Introduction to Word Processing
(grades 2-3), Image Manipulation (grades
2-6), introduction to spreadsheets
(grades 2-3), Introduction to Gmail
(grade 3), Binary, Google Drive and Sites,
and Formulas in Spreadsheets (grades
5-6). We began offering classes not just
for parents but for the community to
show them what we are doing. [W]e help
them set up their own Google accounts
and teach them how to use them.”
—BJ Brooks, director of
instructional technology, Cabot
(AR) School District
Old school service = standardized content. We were bound by
time from 8am to 4pm, 180 days a year. New educational motto:
Just like you like it. Why not offer a buffet? Learn what you
want. Let the students drive their learning. Every taste is
different and must be tailored for learning.
—Carl Hooker, Director of Instructional Technology
and iPadpalooza Founder, Eanes (TX) ISD
The partnership between technology
and curriculum really depends on the
successful relationship between the
leaders of these departments.
—Jean Tower, Public Schools of
Northborough and Southborough, MA
As it relates to professional
development, we have removed
all required hours from our teacher
contract and built professional
development into the supervision
process. PD is differentiated to meet the needs
of staff. Principals help staff develop their own
roadmap for success at the beginning of the
school year. Some PD is now online in synchronous
sessions, others through video tutorials, and still
others in a face-to-face environment. Much of our
PD is teacher led and designed to meet the request
—Tom Murray, Director of Technology and
Cyber Education, Quakertown Community
School District, Bucks County, PA
I am trying many different
strategies to ensure that our
teachers in the high school
embrace our 1:1 iPad rollout.
We named the initiative
“Mobile Minds” to divert the attention from
the technology and on to the power of the
collaboration and transformation.
—Julie Bohnenkamp, Director of Technology,
Center Grove Community School
Corporation in suburban Indianapolis
Our challenge is organizing
technology training sessions
so that 100% of the attendees
regard them as meaningful (and
a priority over the other tasks on
their to-do lists).
—Elizabeth Janowiak, Director of
Technology Geneva CUSD 304, Geneva IL
Technology is not only physically
housed with teaching and learning
services, we are required to attend
all teaching, learning, and curriculum
functions. However, we don’t report
to the head of teaching and learning, we report
directly to the superintendent. Our budgets are also
uniquely intertwined, making sure that technology
isn’t making educational decisions and teaching/
learning can’t proceed with major technology
expenses without technology involvement.
—Brian Abeling, Director of Technology,
West Des Moines Schools, West Des Moines, IA
“We have 6,000 students and
a strong leadership team
that counts on principals as
education leaders. There are
no instructional technology
specialists in our schools; we
rely on our teachers to fulfill
—Grace Magley, Supervisor of Online
Learning, Natick (MA) Public Schools
Lessons from a Mobile Learning Initiative
When Orleans Parish Schools, LA, launched their “Learning on the Go” program, Peggy Villars
Abadie said they learned that the most important variable to their success was lots of teacher PD in
preparation for the project. This training should include:
• How to handle a down/unavailable device.
• How to design classroom use of the devices in learning.
• How to manage a 1:1 classroom.
• How to engage learners and access the power of personal learning devices.
Abadie also cites technical support of the devices as being crucial. On average, the district allotted at
least three hours daily to handle technical concerns.
Three change leadership practices
1. Shine the light. Bring focus and energy to the problems you want to solve. Spread the word to
parents and community. Tell a compelling story. Paint a picture that’s desirable. Make one-click
shopping (a la Amazon) in schools.
2. Loose/Tight leadership. Create a core set of principles everyone agrees on. People within that
framework can make leaps of creativity that make change happen. We’re not looking for droids. Think
for yourself and find the way to bring core principles to life.
3. Build relationships. Without strong relationships, no one will move ahead and [change] won’t
happen. Build a climate where people are not afraid to take risks. Create a platform for teachers’
voices, one bite at a time.
—Jean Tower, Director of Technology, Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough, MA
Students To Be
Successful for Life
The world does not
behave like a traditional
classroom. Learning is a
choice; technology amplifies
potential. It’s about more
than buy in; it’s about ownership. We
achieve [success] by being partners. We
can’t leave this to chance. Have a clear plan.
What change can you make in 100 days?
—Ben Grey, Chief Innovation Officer and
Art Fessler, Superintendent, Community
Consolidated School District 59, IL
“Norman Public Schools is a PreK-12 district of just over 15,500 students. The district has implemented an Intelligent Classroom Project in approximately
1,100 classrooms. Each classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, a document camera, projector, three wireless slates, student response
systems, sound solution, cart for all equipment, a wireless laptop and docking station. Time and time again we are seeing student engagement as a
huge benefit of the Intelligent Classroom. Both elementary and secondary teachers have reported that the Intelligent Classroom technology allows
them to teach students in a more interactive and engaging way. An elementary teacher eloquently shared her thoughts which we hear over and over from many
teachers: ‘Children need a variety of experiences and modalities to gain mastery of basic skills and fuel their passion for self-regulated learning which will lead them into
productive citizenship, college, and careers. They love using the Mobis (wireless slates) for interactive games. Clickers provide feedback and data in a concise, timely
manner.’ This installation has included three years of intense professional development for all teachers based on the ISTE NETS standards. At this point in the project we
are transitioning the PD to a team of teachers at each school site. This will provide a sustainable model of professional development as we move forward.
—Kathryn Lewis, Director of Media Services and Instructional Technology, Norman (OK) Public Schools