Los Angeles, California: Margaret Klee

As CIO of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Captain Margaret Klee, USN (Ret.), oversees 600 employees, a $58 million budget, and a mind-boggling 900,000 users—more than the entire population of Delaware. With 23 years of IT experience in the military, most recently heading up the Navy Telecommunications Command in San Diego, she’s breathing new life into the district’s technology strategy.

Q: LAUSD implemented a decision support system over two years ago. Can you describe its significance to date?

A: Previously we had a lot of data in our computer systems but couldn’t get at it. When someone wanted a report, it sometimes took a programmer several weeks to produce it. By having a system that automatically extracts the data into a warehouse, it gives users opportunities to access and manipulate the data as they see fit. We started with student performance data but now we’re adding financial and teacher credentialing data. So in the future the district will be able to analyze whether spending in various areas improved student performance, for instance.

Q: What are some ways you’ve been able to improve operational efficiencies?

A: Well, for the past three years I’ve cut the district’s phone bill in half—about $12 million in savings per year. I hired somebody who had retired from the telephone industry and basically let her start running telephones like a business. There were problems as simple as not turning off the phone lines of people who had moved locations and getting rid of duplicative equipment. Also, we quit renting equipment and used the E-rate program to buy our own. It’s fairly common- sense stuff but if you don’t have someone managing an area with the right expertise, they just don’t know to do it. I also set up a security department, which is absolutely critical. When I came here we didn’t even have antivirus software—a real scary thought. One of our ongoing challenges as more and more of our software systems go online is people wanting to use them at home. However, you have to protect student and personnel data, so before we put information online—much less open it up to people at home—we need the right security in place. Data privacy is a huge liability if you don’t take reasonable precautions to protect the data.

Q: Define “reasonable precautions.”

A: The ideal is to lock it in a brick building with no wires going in or out, and no windows, but that’s not reality. So is encryption enough? Is requiring passwords enough? Some things require greater degrees of security. For instance, we totally encrypt insurance data on our employees before it is transmitted. On the other hand, if teachers are entering students’ grades from home, that’s less critical than accessing entire student records. We’ve assigned data owners at the district because once we set up a security system they have to sign off whether they think there’s enough protection. But ultimately it comes down to “what’s the risk and how much risk are we willing to take?”

Q: Who, exactly, are the data owners?

A: Any student data is owned by the instruction side, any financial data is owned by the CFO, and so on. In the past there’s been a tendency to think IT owns all the data. Absolutely not. It’s owned by the primary user of that data—all we do is process it and make recommendations on how to protect it.

Q: How does IT management in K–12 compare to the Navy?

A: One area that’s no different in education than in the military is the challenge of getting your users to define their requirements. Too often users want to define what they want for a solution rather than telling you what it is they need to do. Those are often two very different answers.

Read the expanded version of this interview at www.techlearning.com/schoolcio.