A CIO Story

Courtesy of Technology & Learning

Editor's note: Kim Rice was recently named Leader of the Year by Technology & Learning. To read more about the program, visit http://www.techlearning.com/leader

Kim Rice's career path to being the top technology officer of an urban school system began in an unlikely place: as a 4th grade teacher in suburbia. In fact, if you visited Rice's office at Boston's Government Center, you'd see a photo of her students from 1993, the year she started teaching.

You'd also see a lot of ducks. When Rice took the CIO helm in July 2005 after serving as a data architect for a statewide portal, BPS's instructional and information technology offices had recently merged into one department. Rice launched a campaign to "get our ducks in a row," buying and distributing 300 rubber ducks to every principal in the district. "It was about OIIT [the Office of Instructional & Informational Technology] changing its mantra to service schools better," says Rice, who still receives numerous duck-related gifts from colleagues.

While the duck campaign may seem like a small thing, it embodies why Rice, who runs marathons in her spare time, has been so successful so quickly. To wit: her laser-like focus on customer service; her ability to inspire different constituencies to come together; and her unswerving eye on teaching and learning.

"She has weathered the transition and created an atmosphere of collaboration between the two units," says superintendent Michael Contompasis, who adds hiring Rice was one of the best decisions he ever made.

When it comes to working with schools, Rice has a simple approach: she listens. She visits a school almost every week, usually on Fridays. She also requires all 86 of her staff members to visit a school and shadow a principal once a year. "So when they sit in an [application] development session and ask 'why can't principals do attendance by 9 a.m.?' they understand," she says. Rice is currently guiding OIIT to identify ways, in the form of key performance indicators and targets, it can improve. Now, for the first time ever, the department is establishing service-level agreements with the district's 145 schools.

Rice was an instrumental player in a recent citywide PeopleSoft upgrade, which brought together C-level leaders from City Hall and BPS into a cross-functional team. Rice also oversees Project Refresh, in which corporations like Blue Cross Blue Shield donate gently used computers. "We looked at this as a crisis," says Rice, who reports that when she came on as CIO, 8,000 of the district's 15,000 computers were over five years old. This year BPS replaced 1,300 computers for $130,000, a fraction of the $1.3 million it would have cost to buy new machines.

Yet for all of Rice's operational chops, her teaching background is never far away. At an October conference celebrating BPS's new three-year strategic technology plan, Rice, who has a MySpace page, led a panel on social networking called "To Block or Not to Block?" She says that she struggles between "wanting to be proactive on the education side" while also ensuring safety.

"She's multilingual when it comes to technology," says BPS deputy CIO Melissa Dodd. "She gets you pumped up."

Amy Poftak is editorial director of School CIO.

Kim Rice's Toolbox

Fortres Grand Corp. Clean Slate
NTI Group Connect-ED
Numara Software Track-It!
Oracle PeopleSoft
SunGard disaster recovery
WebSense filtering