DAILY INSIGHT: How to make transitions smoother

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

Last week we experienced something few countries do; we saw the graceful and peaceful change of power, or at least the process we go through to do that, with the 2012 election leaving the status quo. The President officially nominated some new cabinet officers, was sworn in again and then took a leisurely and simple walk down Pennsylvania Ave along with 800,000 of his closest friends and about a division worth of US soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guardsmen.

So, what the heck does that have to do with my role as the CIO of a school district?

Well, in the spring of the year, school districts often go through their own transitions of power. School Board members resign or retire and new Board members replace them. Superintendents and other cabinet-level administrators transition in and out as well. Someone in the CIO role must remember that those transitions happen with regularity. Even though they may not be televised to the same extent, those transitions also affect the technology programs of the school district.

So, how do you deal with that transition? Do you make sure you reach out to the new leader(s) and offer to provide them an overview of your department and programs? Or do you assume that someone else has already done so or that they will familiarize themselves with your programming by reading old minutes, memos and other files? (I believe both are bad assumptions.)

I would suggest a three-step process to dealing with transitions as the school CIO:

  1. Write a thank you note/letter as appropriate to each person who leaves, stating an appreciation for their support of your programs, etc. Wish them well in the future. I tend to send a handwritten thank you note to each Board member who leaves and administrators who leave under good terms. I also present them with some type of certificate at a Board meeting or other public event, when appropriate.
  2. Send a short note of welcome to incoming administrators, etc. I often send them to new peers in neighboring districts. Invite them to make an appointment to learn more about the district’s technology, etc. If you have multiple new people at once, you may want to offer a more formal “in-briefing.” I have done this type of in-briefing with every new Board member I have had and offered the same to my new bosses when I was the CIO. I think it is an excellent way to start off a positive professional relationship.
  3. Follow up after your in-briefing or initial meeting in about two to three months and make sure that the new person feels that they understand the technology program and its goals.

When I was the new principal, two of my departments offered to provide the type of in-briefing I discussed above. In both cases, that set an extremely positive tone for my work with those departments. I knew right away that those were subordinates I could count on based on their initial professionalism and thoroughness. A lack of similar offers from some of my administrators when I transitioned to other roles similarly set an initial tone.

I hope these thoughts help you prepare for your own transitions in your school or district.

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.