Name: Sheryl Abshire
District: Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana
What are your big-picture tech goals?
Our school district has been heavily engaged in the use of innovative technology for 20 years. I’ve been CTO for 15 years. We’ve grappled with questions like, How do you continue to innovate, evolve, and support tech in a way that makes sense? Funding and resourcing have become very challenging over the past five years, but one thing we know is that we are not going to live long enough to get enough money to do everything we want to do with technology. So, our focus has become to build reliable, robust high-speed infrastructure for now and into the future. We can then focus efforts on building capacity for tech tools.
Many of our schools use federal dollars, so they’re well resourced with iPads and iTouches and desktops. The next step is opening up the district wireless network, so if the student has a device at home, they can bring it to school.That device will be their personal learning tool. There is a major shift and initiative with BYO that requires a different way of supporting ‘stuff.’Instead of just buying ‘stuff,’ we have to think about how do we retool our support? We’re turning to more open resources, more cloud-based resources. For example, we have a project called CPSB AIR (Access to Internet Resources) that gives student and employee owned devices authenticated access to the Internet. All students and employees have log-ins, so know who is accessing our network and we are able to keep students safe.
We also have to build the capacity to help teachers learn how to teach differently. We don’t just throw stuff in classroom. We bring teachers in and take them through a hybrid-learning model. How do you manage this classroom? What does the pedagogy look like? What does assessment look like? How do you teach with cloud-based resources?
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
The real challenge for a CTO is information overload. For me, I gladly acknowledge that these are 24/7 jobs.I live on a Blackberry; it’s never off. People say you need to get off the grid, but in these jobs, if we’re off and the grid explodes, we’re responsible. I have an incredible staff, but in a CTO/CIO position, information is power. If I don’t have the information, I don’t have the power to make real-time decisions and support the goals of our district.
What current edtech trends have you jazzed?
I’m excited about the idea of disruption. Some people are not comfortable with that; it’s disconcerting. But I think we should celebrate disruption. I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions. We shouldn’t be asking, “How do we transform schools?” We should ask, “How do we make schools relevant?” This question should go not just to today’s learners at all ages, but should include staff as well. How do we create relevant models so teachers and students feel connected to the learning? We need to watch and listen to students. We need to pay much more attention to what students are doing outside of school to learn. If they are not practicing that in school, we’re in real trouble.