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

innovative leader awards
(Image credit: Future)

At the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in Orlando, the editors 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 Dallas Regional Summit until Friday, January 28. Find details here. Tech & Learning will cover travel for all awards finalists.  

Jay L. Barrett, Principal, AmTech Career Academy, TX 

Innovative leader awards

Jay L. Barrett (Image credit: Future)

AmTech Career Academy is a brand new, state-of-the-art, 235,000-square-foot learning space with nine different schools and more than 35 different career pathways, all under one roof. The Academy has an esports arena, a robot/drone coliseum, and hands-on labs that include everything from three flight simulators to a VR simulation for their law and public service students. Barrett’s team has given tours of their campus to more than 3,000 people this year, and the prevalent comment from adults is, "I wish they had a place like this when I was a kid,” which their graphic design young professionals turned into a bumper sticker. SMART Technologies is bringing a film crew to the school as part of their "Connections That Matter" series because of the way they are using the academy for the entire community. The academy has 1,900 students who come from five different high schools for 2 to 5 periods per day to take courses that lead to industry-based certifications.

Laurel Chiesa, Director of Instructional Technology, Fayetteville-Manlius School District, NY 

innovative leader awards

Laurel Chiesa (Image credit: Future)

As the Director of Instructional Technology at New York’s Fayetteville-Manlius school district, Laurel Chiesa has been leading her district’s student data privacy compliance efforts. Chiesa deployed a data analytics platform to give real-time visibility into actual app usage. Adding this system made it easy for all stakeholders to know which apps’ security policies the district has vetted and approved. Chiesa is also a co-founder and facilitator of the Central New York Technology Collaborative, providing learning communities to 48 technology directors. In the last three years, a main focus has been student privacy and cybersecurity as well as preparing students for technology-based occupations, collaboration, and civic responsibility. 

Christopher J. Lockhart, Director, Technology, Princeton City Schools, OH 

innovative leader awards

Christopher J. Lockhart (Image credit: Future)

Lockhart’s efforts in the Princeton City School District regarding digital equity ensure that students have equal access to technology such as devices, software, and the internet, along with proper training to navigate these tools. Going beyond 1:1 across the district, PCSD has partnered with local apartment complexes and mobile home parks to provide more than 180 WiFi hotspots that can be borrowed from the office, rental centers, or community rooms. PCSD has also expanded the bandwidth of the schools' networks to extend to outdoor parking lots. Parents and students can park in a lot so students can download their lessons to their computer hard drive. The Princeton Mobile Book Center also travels to targeted neighborhoods, providing Wifi from a solar-paneled bookmobile, and VR devices offer virtual field trips. Lockhart also offers tech tips for staff, parents, and students, and working with community partners, offers a "Keeping Students Safe Online" seminar to parents. 

Charles Newsome, IT Site Support Services Manager, The School District of Manatee County, FL 

The School District of Manatee County is on a journey to create the classroom of the future. As part of this vision, Newsome led the effort as the district revamped classrooms with 65-inch professional displays to replace aging projectors, created collaborative learning environments that included interactive whiteboards, networked all of the displays to be managed from one place, and added digital signage that can be activated for emergency notifications as needed.  

Adam Phyall III, Director Of Technology and Media Services, Newton County School System, GA 

innovative leader awards

Adam Phyall III (Image credit: Future)

Before the pandemic, Newton County schools were not 1:1, but when it struck, Phyall worked to deploy Chromebooks, Windows laptops, and iPads to students. In the county, there was also a lack of connectivity with families, so Phyall worked to combat this deficit by providing home internet access through internet service providers at no cost to families. Phyall also oversaw the distribution of hotspots and the expansion of wireless access to school parking lots, and bolstered internet access in the community by partnering with the Boys and Girls Club, daycares, churches, and other buildings in the community. This implementation led to increased connectivity in the county and the development of a connectivity task force, made up of the school system, elected officials, and community stakeholders. Phyall has been instrumental in helping the community understand that internet access and connectivity is not just a problem of the school system; it will require a community approach. 

Paul Sanfrancesco, CTO, Owen J. Roberts School District, PA 

innovative leader awards

Paul Sanfrancesco (Image credit: Future)

Paul Sanfrancesco’s theme has always been “How does this help students?” Since COVID, it has changed to, “How do we help students and have them connect to classrooms everywhere?” Owen J. Roberts SD has accomplished many things under Sanfrancesco’s leadership: K-12 1:1, learning management system implementation, full fiber and wireless network on school campuses, and flexible classrooms. When COVID hit, Sanfrancesco expanded access to every home in the district, launched an initiative to provide hot spots for those who did not have access, and worked with ISPs to open paid wireless networks for free. He also drove to more than 200 family homes to assist with connecting and providing extra devices, and provided repair workshops for families, staff and community for any devices. He also connected the district’s sports fields and playgrounds with wireless and access on buses. 

Additional congratulations to our finalists:

David Childress, Director of Technology, and Kenny Bouwens, Director of Career & Technical Education, Louisa County Public Schools, VA

Childress and Bouwens worked together to design and build units called Wireless on Wheels (WOW). These units are solar-powered WiFi hotspots installed on towable trailers. In Louisa County, more than 60% of residents don’t have access to high-speed, quality internet. Through the WOW program, more than 30 units have been built and distributed throughout the county, and has helped to close the equity gap.

Joseph DiPuma, Coordinator of Innovation, Flagler Schools, FL

DiPuma, once a Flagler student himself, now focuses on re-imagining older, traditional classrooms into driven, hardworking powerhouses, supercharged by a dynamic blend of student-driven learning solutions. He also spends his time aligning his efforts with school media specialists, overhauling and energizing the existence of dated media centers into something creative and colorfully inspirational.

Pam Holifield, Director of Educational Technology, American Heritage Schools, FL

In just one week, Holifield developed a long-term plan to prepare for closures in case the district had to quarantine due to COVID. Some of these best practices include: recording every class session and posting in a shared folder, so if students need to review or miss a class, they do not lose instruction; and recording all faculty meetings. She also provided continued support for parents, students, and teachers throughout the pandemic.

Robert Kyle McCartney, Principal, Gulf Shores Middle School, FL

The GSMS Esports & Media Lab includes filming equipment, video-editing software, and greenscreen technology to provide students the ability to create a variety of video-based projects. The school’s esports team competes in multiple events, and there is an esports media elective, teaching students the strategy behind gaming, teamwork, streaming skills, and use of different technologies.

Dr. Martin Miller, Superintendent, Antwerp Local Schools, OH

Antwerp’s Innovation and Aquaponics Center provides an advanced, state-of-the-art multipurpose learning space. The high-tech facility serves as the catalyst for deep understanding, connection of ideas, problem-solving, and the ability to apply and transfer solutions to other areas. The Center serves as a hub for STEM and STEAM initiatives, preparing young adults with the skills necessary to meet the employment needs of area businesses.

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.