Open letter to a school committee member

A bit of background before I pass on this letter that I wrote to a member of our school committee this morning...Our district has been without a technology-director type for many years now.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

A bit of background before I pass on this letter that I wrote to a member of our school committee this morning...Our district has been without a technology-director type for many years now. While we have good staff handling individual schools, coordinating and managing the use of technology district-wide has fallen to superintendents, most of whom have given it a go, but understandably lack expertise. A technology director position is now under consideration, but obviously must be weighed against many other competing financial needs. Read on to see the letter I wrote advocating for the creation of this position. Hi ... mentioned that you had some concerns about the creation of an administrative tech director position within the district. For what it's worth, I wanted to give you my $.02 on the issue, having been in a teacher/tech support role for a few years now.

As you probably know, I submitted my resignation from the network administrator position here at Athol High School effective at the end of the summer. I resigned because I find that it is impossible to both teach effectively and provide high levels of technical support to administrators and staff. Given the extraordinary importance of computer technology to our daily functioning as well as to educating and instructing students, providing technical support, planning, purchasing, coordinating, and administering computer and networking hardware and software are no longer tasks that can be done "on the side."

Internet access, printing, image management, security, training, etc., require significant, ongoing support and, unlike 10-15 years ago, are now mission-critical to education. These functions have been important for many years; however, as demands to integrate technology effectively increase and administrators, teachers, and students rely on technology every day, a lack of attention to planning, implementation, and maintenance of technological resources hurts students and makes teachers' jobs more difficult.

Similarly, without centralized oversight or guidance, school-based part-time technical staff are left to make decisions in a vacuum. Islands of technology exist without a clear understanding of the effects of their decisions and actions. Administrators and elected officials are often not in a position to effectively prioritize technological decision making. If an elementary school moves to a particular computing platform and teaches particular computing skills, what effect does that have when they enter the middle school? If the high school upgrades a set of computers, what must be sacrificed at another school to make that happen? What innovative solutions exist to integrate computing across grade levels? How can money be saved by re-allocating resources, platform standardization, or even platform divergence? How can we meet special education needs throughout the district using technology to decrease the difficulty of individualized instruction on regular ed teachers?

These aren't questions that someone without significant expertise in the field can answer, nor are they questions that can be answered by staff at individual schools, no matter how highly qualified they might be. While it is true that our district is relatively small, it is perhaps even more important to centralize decision-making in a district where money and resources are scarce. Poor technological decision-making means wasted money, wasted time, and seriously limiting the value that technology can have for students as they advance within the district.

Technical understanding must outlive any individual in the district. People get sick, change jobs, and otherwise move on. Central administration of technology allows for standardized documentation and planning such that anyone with an appropriate level of expertise could keep the district moving forward in terms of technology maintenance and implementation. Again, the idea of islands of technology means islands of knowledge, as well, often inaccessible to staff who need it.

As a final thought, I think we can all agree that technology for the sake of technology, simply because the state and regulatory agencies tell us that we need it, is senseless and adds no value, despite considerable cost. However, an administrator focused on technology could, in addition to improving the general state of hardware in the district, could think seriously about technology integration into the core curriculum across all grade levels and schools. Technological support for special education and MCAS remediation alone requires a centralized, concerted effort, particularly if we are to use data to effectively drive instruction at all levels. If the position was not administrative, it would be extremely difficult to implement curricula and policies that ultimately allow our students to leave the district as discerning, effective users of technology.

Thanks for your time, . Don't hesitate to call me if you would like to discuss this further. Obviously, I feel quite passionate about the creation of this position as I believe that it would carry a direct and significant benefit to teachers, students, staff, and front line technical support serving the schools.

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