Tech & Learning Names the Winners of the Innovative Leader Awards in Dallas

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At the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in Dallas, our editorial team named the winners of the new Tech & Learning Innovative Leader Awards. This honor recognizes exceptional administrators in select regions around the country who are leading innovation in their school districts. We’re seeking district leaders who not only drove innovation during the pandemic, but plan to take these lessons learned to reimagine and reinvent education moving forward. 

Please help us congratulate the winners – and consider nominating yourself or a colleague for other upcoming Regional Summits here. Nominations will be accepted for the Atlanta Summit until Regional Summit until March 7. Find details here. Tech & Learning will cover travel for all awards finalists.  

Kyle Berger, Chief Technology Officer, Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, TX 

Kyle led his district’s  transformation during the COVID pandemic by connecting all classrooms virtually using Newline Interactive panels and installing cameras in each school. This approach allowed for dual classroom instruction in-person and virtual for all students, eliminating the need for teachers to have to do added work. Along with this advancement, dedicated 24/7 technical support was implemented using outdoor technology lockers and integration into the district help desk, from making trips to students' houses or apartments to checking on those not connecting. 

Kyle also added a number of virtual safety and mental health/wellness measures across the district. He played a key role in bringing Gaggle Safety Management to the district and connecting the safety solution to the district’s Canvas LMS, their use of Google Hangouts/Chat, as well as their virtual high school to make GCISD a safer place for students and staff.

Kyle leads collaborative efforts across the Dallas metroplex to help educate other schools about coming through the past few years and preparing for the future with his talks about the three phases of the past two years we’ve all lived: From Pandemic to Pandemonium to Possibilities for all with technology integration.

Summer Carlton (Curriculum and Professional Learning Supervisor) & Gina Looney (Reading and RTI Coordinator), Franklin Special School District, TN 

In a time when districts across the nation experienced devastating student achievement losses due to the impact of a global pandemic and an unprecedented move to virtual teaching and learning, the FSSD remained in the top ten performing districts in Tennessee in literacy and math and, according to their providers, exceeded typical student achievement results. 

Before and since, Summer and Gina have done an exceptional job leading the implementation of digital curricular resources. Together, they ensure that all teachers and students have access to high quality digital curriculum, particularly in math and literacy. When gaps are found, they vet other resources to provide supplemental digital resources for core and, when appropriate, intervention. They also provide professional learning and continual support to ensure the digital resources are being used skillfully. Their layers of support include:

  • Regular data conversations with providers and district and campus leadership.
  • Invitations to program providers to share progress and provide information to district and campus leadership.
  • The preparation of district instructional coaches to support teachers in their schools
  • Providing access to high quality differentiated digital curriculum and continual teacher growth that impacts student achievement in a positive way remains a priority for teaching and learning in FSSD.

Mary Decker, Associate Director of Schools for Teaching & Learning, Franklin Special School District, TN 

FSSD’s overall approach to technology implementation during the pandemic is an exceptional model because it involves best practices around equity as well as high-quality technology tools and instructional resources. The district has created a sustainable technology infrastructure that ensures technology access for all students via the device management/refreshes, flexible learning spaces, and by building the robust, scalable networks described below. Wireless access was made available in all classrooms and Cat6 wire was installed in all school remodels. Mary Decker coordinated the innovative efforts. 

With the March 2020 emergenceof COVID-19 and extended school closure, technology, including a device for every student and hot spots for those in need, was instantly deployed via car pickup lines at schools and bus drop-offs to neighborhoods. Access to exemplary digital resources was already in place. When the 2020-2021 school year began, the district embarked on another new frontier by offering parents the choice of virtual or in-person learning. For virtual learners, an education equal to that of in-person students was imperative. Every pupil in the district’s diverse landscape uses the same excellent technology. This has always been the case, but with the pandemic it became even more crucial. Years of focus on the implementation of and support for high-quality instructional resources and technology and a laser-like focus on one question prepared the district for these extraordinary circumstances: what is best for students? The invaluable nature of these strategies encompasses lessons learned that will inform future innovation.

Renee Kotsopoulo, Director of Health Services, Garland Independent School District, TX 

In February 2020, Hazel Health partnered with Garland ISD to bring telemedicine services to three schools. The following month, districts across the country transitioned to remote learning to slow the spread of COVID. Immediately upon closure, Renee Kotsopoulos, Director of Health Services, requested an expansion of services to all 55k+ students district-wide to ensure the students had access to healthcare. This was of immense benefit to families during mandatory stay-at-home orders, when families could not leave for care. In addition to making these services available for students, Renee has partnered to bring dental and optometry services to students. Students who take advantage of such services receive low to no-cost dental cleanings, eye exams and glasses. During a time when the wait time for healthcare services can extend as long as several months, the students of Garland ISD can immediately receive support. In addition to healthcare services, Renee has played a vital role in securing COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for students, families, and staff of Garland ISD. Renee is a strong advocate for the health and wellbeing of all.