Tech Leadership

Why Superintendents Need a Vision for Technology

by KEITH R. KRUEGER

Superintendents have many responsibilities, and technology is only one, particularly in today’s highly pressured, high-stakes environment.

Based on surveys, interviews and personal observation, I’ve concluded most superintendents do not see technology as their job. Rather, they say, technology is the responsibility of their school district’s technology leader or chief technology officer. This view overlooks a particular role that superintendents must play to support 21st-century learning environments.

Keith KruegerKeith R. Krueger


Chip Kimball, the chief technology officer before moving into the superintendency in Lake Washington, Wash., is a uniquely qualified expert, having worn both hats. In addition, he chairs the Empowering the 21st-Century Superintendent initiative created by the Consortium for School Networking in partnership with AASA and many state associations.

“The superintendent has the broadest perspective in the school district and must constantly balance multiple priorities and constituencies,” Kimball says. “Once I became the superintendent, technology quickly became one of many opportunities and challenges rather than the focus of my responsibilities. That said, technology is a tremendous catalyst for teaching and learning. It can help accelerate, differentiate and automate. It connects students and faculty to resources unimaginable even a decade ago, and when used properly can catalyze thinking and expression for students that readies them for the future ahead of them.”

The greatest challenge for education leaders, Kimball believes, is leveraging the highest and best use of technology in conjunction with outstanding teaching practice. Without outstanding teaching, the use of technology will not realize its potential.

“The move to the superintendency helped me to see more clearly and comprehensively the challenges associated with technology implementation and integration. It is easy to become distracted with other pressing and urgent matters, while strategic matters are at times neglected,” Kimball says. “Deliberate focus by the superintendent is required to avoid this pitfall.”

Pluses and Pitfalls
The move from being a chief technology officer to the superintendency is a relatively new phenomenon.

Kimball believes there are significant benefits to the background he brings to the role, including expertise understanding systems, change theory, budgeting, systemic implementation, people and, most importantly, the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

“As we discuss 21st-century skills and their importance, my technology background gave me credibility to initiate these conversations in the organization,” says Kimball.

Unique challenges also confront the technology leader who becomes a superintendent. Though he started his career as a classroom teacher, Kimball had to deliberately work with classroom teachers to establish credibility regarding curriculum, instruction and the day-to-day classroom challenges.

“As a superintendent, I always lead with teaching and learning, and my connections to technology are strategic but more subtle,” he says.

First Steps
Kimball’s most important work when becoming superintendent was to lead a districtwide effort to define what students should know and be able to do before they graduate to prepare them for work and life. Key to that effort was examining 21st-century skills and what we now know about effective learning.

The result was Lake Washington’s new student profile and guiding principles titled “Every Student Future Ready: Prepared for College, Prepared for the Global Workplace, Prepared for Personal Success,” which fully integrates technology.

Kimball knew he needed a strong and effective chief technology officer who would serve at the cabinet level. After hiring his CTO, they spent nearly a year understanding successes and challenges, reviewing technology organization and direction, and making alignments that would support district priorities.

The new plan sets clear expectations of students, teachers, staff, administrators and families, and guarantees that “anytime, anywhere, assured access” is flexible, portable and differentiated for the learner.

“It is impossible to develop an appropriate educational program for students without deeply exploring 21st-century skills. While there are discrete technology skills embedded into this approach, this is just as much about thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills,” Kimball says.

With that strategic foundation, the next step was to develop new strategies for professional development, online learning and integration expectations for staff.

Exploring Innovation
Like most school districts, Lake Washington is facing significant budgetary pressure.

Yet Kimball sees a possible silver lining to the economic crisis. “Innovation and technology adaptations may be accelerated because traditional alternatives can no longer be supported by the budget.”

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, D.C. E-mail: keith@cosn.org