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Esports, Equity, and Innovation Explored at the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in California

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NASEF Fellow JuanPablo Larios from Orange Unified School District leads a discussion with students on the positive impact esports have had on their academic careers. (Image credit: Future)

At the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in California (opens in new tab), school district leaders gathered at the UC Irvine Conference Center for a day of professional development that included a keynote from UCI’s Gillian Hayes on how to make edtech more accessible (opens in new tab), a student panel discussion that explored how esports can open up a wide array of college and career opportunities, and a tour of the UCI Esports Arena (opens in new tab), the first of its kind on a college campus. 

The Summit closed with an award ceremony that named the winners of the California Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Awards (opens in new tab), which recognizes exceptional administrators in select regions around the country who are leading innovation in their school districts. 

Please help us congratulate the winners – and consider nominating yourself or a colleague for other upcoming Regional Summits here.  

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(Image credit: Future)

Best Overall Implementation of Technology 

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Sophia Mendoza (center) and her colleagues at LAUSD, Dominic Caguioa  and Allison Jonas. (Image credit: Sophia Mendoza)

Sophia Mendoza, Director, Instructional Technology, Los Angeles Unified School District, California

“Sophia Mendoza continues to challenge the status quo by taking appropriate risks to improve how the Instructional Technology Initiative accomplishes its work,” writes a colleague at LAUSD. Mendoza leads the ITI’s three initiatives: instructional technology through ISTE Standards, expansion of computer science education, and digital citizenship. 

“She sets the example for creative and innovative behavior, and encourages her employees to try new innovative approaches,” her colleague reports. “She fosters innovation by creating conditions that enable the team to openly contribute to and achieve objectives. Employees feel empowered to bring forward their creative ideas for improving the way they do their jobs, to seek new work, and to improve the department’s operations.” 

In leading LAUSD ITI Mendoza also supports the six-week Future Ready Certification for 15,000 educators, encourages edtech coaches to collaborate to design strategies to support teachers through virtual office hours, develops computer science coding activities, creates tutorials, and designs lessons for both families and teachers. 

Robert Sidford, Director of Technology and Innovation, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, California

Sidford joined the team at Mt. Diablo Unified School District at an interesting time – July of 2020. Not one to be dissuaded by a challenge, he launched into action by chairing a representative task force to develop a long-range strategic technology plan at MDUSD. 

During the past 17 months, Sidford also oversaw a district-wide 1-to-1 program to serve 29,000 students. He led a team to prioritize equitable IT service management through a revamped work order system and the restructuring of technician assignments to more equitably serve schools. He initiated streamlined purchasing practices, established responsible partnerships and minimum standards, and drafted a security “risk register” to identify vulnerabilities to mitigate risks. 

Sidford also developed a team-focused “responsibility matrix,” outlining departmental responsibilities and improved student data privacy by collaborating with the instruction and legal teams to develop a clear approval process for digital tools. 

“He hit the ground running and never looked back,” writes Lisa Gonzalez, Chief Business Officer at Mt. Diablo USD.


Nominate yourself or a colleague for other upcoming Regional Summits here (opens in new tab)


Best Example of Student & Teacher Well-Being Programs 

Ling Lam, Director of Education Technology, Helios School, Sunnyvale, California

Lam has been instrumental in bridging the gap between tech and instruction by developing strong relationships with both teachers and administrators, as well as with students. She is a well-respected professional development expert who supports not only her district, but other districts as well. 

Lam demonstrates best practices in making the case for including more technology in teaching and learning, but also emphasizes the importance of blending technology with solid pedagogy and social-emotional learning needs. Lam’s dedication to continued professional learning and wellness are just two examples of her commitment to improve educational outcomes for students in California and beyond.

Best Implementation of Data Privacy 

Steve Harmon, Sergio Rizzi, and Bruce Neff, EdTech Specialists, Oak Grove Union School District, California

This edtech team has spent years building student data privacy safety protocols in not only their district, but they also helped lead and train other districts across the state of California (their webpage for student data privacy is here (opens in new tab)). 

Harmon, Rizzi, and Neff were early proponents of comprehensive California Student Data Privacy Agreements, which offer critical protection of student, staff, and administrator personally identifiable information. They embody best practices against cybersecurity attacks, and include the entire Oak Grove community in their efforts. 

In their work with LearnPlatform, they have been active partners in advocating for how to do things better and have brought their collective knowledge as thought partners to other California districts through their involvement with CITE and other California networks. 

Harmon, Rizzi, and Neff are exemplars of continuously developing best practices and working to ensure their adoption throughout their district. Plus, they are “always willing and ready to answer the call to share resources, support other districts, and present on a moment’s notice,” writes a colleague.