Driving Change: Do Today’s Superintendents Go Far Enough?

CEO, One-to-One Institute

It is interesting and disconcerting that this article of nearly 2 years ago rings true today (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/digital-natives-yet-strangers-to-the-web/390990/).  While many districts across the nation have forged ahead as early or middle level adopters of ed tech it is still true that not all learners have consistent access to the kinds of tools required for successful futures.

I recently participated in an event sponsored by numerous automotive industry leaders.  They invited superintendents from Michigan to collaborate with them on how to develop the talent needed to fill the thousands of ‘new’ manufacturing/auto/tech jobs that are emerging across sixteen state counties.  The event organizers presented data and profiles about these jobs.  They discussed different avenues of preparing high schoolers for these positions.  They sought the district leaders’ ideas regarding the same.

Developing Student Skills and Talent

The industry leaders taught me a lot about how manufacturing jobs have been transformed.  To be employed in this pathway one needs to be highly technically skilled and experienced. This includes knowledge of content, technology application, and systems integration.  These are highly complex jobs that require expertise not only in core standard curricula but in relevant uses of technology tools within the same.

And there is a void of talented candidates in MI to fill these jobs. Across sixteen MI counties, the bedrock of high tech development and engineering jobs, the companies are struggling to find talent to fill positions.  Many have instituted internships and co-op work that are fed by local school districts.  The profile of career technical schools has shifted dramatically. Where there exists high caliber, rigorous applied learning programs focused on integrated disciplines and the fusion of technologies, they are producing ‘ready to go’ employees. They are being placed immediately in top notch positions that posture them for continued career growth and opportunities.

Back to the superintendents’ ideas for the industry leaders.  The educators said they needed more career and guidance counselors, more money for more programs, help from the auto industry.  None of them mentioned the moral imperative for ensuring their learners had the technology needed to make learning experiences relevant and applicable to real life problem solving and careers.  Two of the superintendents in the room had developed wonderful 1 to 1 programs and cyber security instructional programs that were helping leapfrog students into the future.  Those supes didn’t speak up.  The others could have learned mightily from them.  One superintendent of a prominent district grabbed the microphone and walked the room touting the need for a new breed of counselor and teacher prepared for teaching in this century.  The district she represents is one of the most traditional, non-technologically advanced in the county!!  I was amazed at the lack of leadership knowledge for what is required for jobs today and tomorrow.  That amazement was quickly replaced by a measure of despair.

A couple weeks later I learned from the Principal at Nexus Academy of Lansing that he had met with a number of teachers at the county’s career and technical center.  Quite a few of his students participate in programs at the center. Each teacher with whom the principal spoke told him that Nexus sends the most premier students to their programs.  They are head over heels beyond the students from other high schools because they actually know how to effectively use technologies within their skill/content areas.  The teachers noted that with the other schools’ students, they have to teach them how to use and integrate the tech tools as well as master the content.  It’s double duty for the teachers and most significantly for the learners.

Valuing Educational Technology and Skill Development

Learning this I thought about the auto industry leaders’ pleas for talent development.  I thought about the mission of well implementing 1 to 1 technologies in schools that I’ve supported for 15 years.  When we first began this work we knew it was a frontier most schools avoided because of cost and their lack of understanding and prognosticating what the world would expect from students in ten short years.  Those years have come and gone. We’re into the next iteration of needs and expectations. That’s what the auto folk were telling us…no ‘begging’ us to understand.

Nexus Academy isn’t the only school doing the right work with the right tools with their learners.  But they are in a minority, I’m afraid, across our nation.  There is an uptick in schools’ acquiring technologies.  Still, those acquisitions are seldom accompanied by vision, strategy, high quality leadership and a focus on learner outcomes.

There is work to be done even recognizing progress is underway.  High quality leadership for change and the future is required.


Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.

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