Name: Dexter Suggs
District: Little Rock (AR) School
Dexter Suggs was the CIO for Indianapolis Public Schools for two-and-a-half years, and then chief of staff/deputy superintendent for the district for one year. Beginning in July, he will be the new superintendent for the Little Rock (AR) School District. SchoolCIO talked about his transition from CIO to superintendent, the changes he oversaw at Indianapolis, and his goals for Arkansas.
Tell us about some of the technology initiatives you worked on in Indianapolis.
The first major initiative was implementing a 1:1 program. We handed out netbooks to 9,000 9th-12th-grade students. We also did a smaller 1:1 program rollout with 2nd- and 3rd-graders at select schools receiving iPads. Our point for these projects was to create an environment where students move beyond the traditional classroom and engage in educational opportunities after school and at home. We used ANGEL (now Blackboard) as an LMS to create a 24/7 environment where students could communicate with their teachers. The 1:1 program helped improve test scores at some schools, but more important—student engagement improved. Students had that hook they needed to achieve.
Talk us through the iPad process.
During the summer, we had an intense, five-day training for the iPad teachers to share their ideas. The training was mandatory and unpaid, but the teachers wanted to get the iPads so they came willingly. Some days they wanted to stay longer because they were so engaged in the rich, meaningful work. We rolled out the iPads in September 2011, and it went extremely well. To this day, these teachers are still engaged. One school is planning to convert some of the other grades levels and another is looking for grants and loans to get more iPads.
After being CIO, you were promoted to chief of staff. Talk with us about this transition and if you continued to work on technology projects.
For the chief of staff role, I had more responsibility. I took care of day-to-day operations in the district, including IT. I still had my hands in the IT stuff. We were in the midst of creating a VMWare environment to reduce the costs of replacing desktops and to be more resourceful in pushing software and apps throughout the district. We created a virtual environment in our data warehouse.
And then Little Rock came calling?
The search firm representing the Little Rock School District recruited me to apply for the superintendent position, and fortunately I got hired. I think it had a lot to do with my background and serving in a number of different positions. Little Rock does not have a 1:1 program yet, but we will have something. We’ll find the best platform for the environment. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter solutions. Will it be 1:1, blended, virtual learning, or a combination? They have iPads but not to the extent where it should be with true integration.
In Indianapolis, we were working on getting rid of textbooks and using online resources. I’ll be looking into that at Little Rock, too. I’m a strong advocate of technology. I know what it can do to improve engagement and allow students to create a richer, diverse, authentic environment for learning.
Clearly you’ve learned a lot about leadership. Any tips to share with our readers?
One of the major things to understand is the importance of communication—both speaking and listening. You have to know the needs of your environment and become attuned to what people want. Don’t just push your ideas. Make sure everyone is at the table and engaged. I hear about districts that want to implement a 1:1 program and everyone is at the table except the IT people. You can’t do that.
Taking risks is also important. Sometimes we sit back and wait and don’t want to change things, but you have to take risks sometimes. In Indianapolis we created a virtual environment at a time when no one in K-12 had done anything on that large a scale, and it benefited us greatly.