DAILY INSIGHT: The changing role of school IT directors

Try to develop up-and-coming tech leaders. 
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Try to develop up-and-coming tech leaders. 

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

I recently saw that only 51% of districts have a full-time technology director or similar employee to oversee technology. As I look at the monumental changes being recommended for instructional programs and most of those recommendations involve technology, I am amazed that so many districts are without technology leadership. Simply on the pure technology side, a recent CoSN survey shows that 99% of districts will need additional bandwidth in the next three years. Now, in smaller districts, potentially, a principal or other administrator provides technology leadership along with other functions, but there are many districts who have eliminated (or never hired) technology directors and have left planning of one of the major pieces of the district's infrastructure to either entry-level technicians or a teacher or two with some technology skills.

I feel that most superintendents would like to have a full-time technology director, but—in addition to the occasional funding issues with creating new positions or continuing to fill positions when staff retire or move on—there is a lack of qualified applicants for the positions. Being a technology director in a school system really requires that you have your feet planted firmly in two separate but important spheres: the instructional and the technological. Many of the first group of technology directors came up from the teaching ranks, having been a computer teacher or a librarian who was recognized as being "good with computers." However, systems are many times more complicated than when those individuals were in place and technology is no longer a "nice addition" to a district's instructional program. It is an essential part of both the administrative and instructional backbone in most districts.

As an IT leader, it is essential that you work to develop the future IT leaders. This means encouraging those with instructional backgrounds to take the time to learn about the deeper networking and hardware skills necessary to manage those functions and encouraging your best and brightest technical staff to learn more about the instructional side of technology. Make sure both groups become better trainers of staff to meet staff development needs. I have always felt being a good technology leader in a school is difficult because there are so many facets to the job and often you are asked to work with minimal staffing. However, if we are going to continue to move schools forward to reach their potential, we need to continue to encourage and develop the visionary technology leaders of the future. I would hope that each of us reach out to at least one developing leader and work to build the necessary skill sets and experiences that will allow him or her to successfully assume the technology leadership of a school or district.

Good luck, as the education of our students and future students is at stake.

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. Follow North Boone on Twitter @NBCUSD200.