Jean Tower

Jean Tower

Jean Tower, CoSN Board Chair-elect, Chief Technology Officer of Public Schools of Northborough and Soutborough, MAAt the recent CoSN conference in Washington, DC, I had the pleasure of talking with CoSN Board Chair-elect Jean Tower about her life as a CTO and as a board member of CoSN.

Why did you decide to join the board of CoSN?

We had started an advocacy group in my state where we focused on professional development. Soon after we formed this group, I met CoSN’s CEO, Keith Krueger. We talked about CoSN and I saw it was a perfect fit for our goals. We became a state chapter in 2006. From the very beginning, I started volunteering on CoSN committees. They bring a national perspective that we can then get to interpret at the local level.

CoSN is my professional home. They provide resources to develop real tech leadership. Also, as members, our schools have unlimited access to CoSN resources.

Can you provide an example of how your membership to CoSN has helped you develop specific initiatives in your district?

One example of how our district has benefited from our CoSN membership was in developing our BYOT program. Several years ago, we talked to Bailey Mitchell about his BYOT initiative and he was very generous with what he shared with us. He gave us their roadmap, showed us videos from classrooms, gave us copies of their policies. We rolled all of this information into a whole BYOT strand for our professional development sessions, and we are now doing small pilots and preparing for a larger roll-out.

The technical piece was easy, but we had to get buy-in from the teachers and parents. If teachers aren’t ready to teach that way, and parents don’t like it, it won’t work. I went out and spoke to every group—from conferences to Rotary Club meetings. I present to every school committee—I need to—and CoSN has helped with that. They helped give me the knowledge and perspective.

How has your job changed in recent years as a CTO?

The CoSN Framework of Essential Skills and the certification program have been invaluable. When I started my job as CTO, school districts were more concerned that CTOs knew the tech part. Now, my job is more about the vision. It’s been a slow evolution, but 20 years ago, I strung every wire. Today, I sit at the cabinet level.

I would recommend educators interested in becoming a CTO to explore the CoSN CTO certification program. This is a great tool to learn what the job description is, how they can develop their leadership skill set to do their job, and how to help educate administration on the expectations of that job. The best strategies for becoming this kind of leader are to learn how to delegate and when to delegate. Don’t own everything. Also, look for good support people. I look for the right attitude and right work ethic; you can train the technology part.

What changes would you like to see in edtech?

Policy wise, I would like to see government restore funding for tech. When I hear them say we can pull funding from other areas, like special education money, I think that’s a hard sell when they don’t have enough money either.

I’d also like to see some realization that online assessments will be very challenging for many schools. It is going be impossible by 2014. My colleagues are planning a bandwidth test to show just how difficult this will be to deploy all online tests on the same day.

All of these assessments suck up computer learning time. They need to consider a blended approach and take into account a broader picture. One high-stakes test doesn’t give you a full evaluation of each student. We do a lot of other types of assessment in our district and put those in our data warehouse, but the state isn’t interested.

What are you most excited about in edtech?

BYOT and 1:1 are really growing. They’re forcing pedagogy change, which goes hand-in-hand with more student-driven learning. These programs allow teachers to differentiate. As we move to BYOT in my district in Massachusetts, which is fairly affluent, many students will bring their own devices, and the school will make up the difference.

We did a work session where we identified the biggest BYOT concerns, and equity bubbled to the top. We worked on local grants, looked at EETT funding, and are trying to bring together the network providers and hardware providers to put together an affordable leasing option for families.

Jean will be speaking at the 2012 Boston Tech Forum on "21st Century School Leadership: The Key Ingredient."

Christine Weiser is the Content and Brand Director for Tech & Learning, and has been with the company since 2008. She has reported on education for most of her career, working at Scholastic and Gale Publishing before joining Tech & Learning. Christine is also an author and musician, and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son.