Can you imagine taking a deep dive underwater in a rushing river and then resurfacing, only to look around and see that the landscape is now very different?  Yep, you’re still wet, out of breath, and you are still in the same river.  You also need to keep swimming!  Those things are all constant, but your momentary disorientation lets you take advantage of your new perspective and see things you may not have appreciated before.  There are also new landmarks to grapple with.  Welcome to my world as I resurface in my new role as Technology Officer for Learning and Systems at Austin Independent School District.

First, let’s list the things that are different (because we must remember that the “I” in ISD is for Independent):

  • 1:1 is not the norm at this point, though we do have two schools piloting this in the district.
  • Individual schools are more empowered here.
  • 30,000+ computers are arriving right now to add access and improve equity in our schools.
  • Austin ISD has twice the number of students as my former district, and 3 times the number of schools.
  • Austin ISD is not a fast growth district.  In fact, it has matured from an enrollment perspective.

The differences are stimulating.  We are challenged to “reinvent the urban school district” after a running start.  Many needed components, such as computers, are being delivered in a different sequence than the ideal.  The reality is that few districts have the luxury of implementing change as if there was a giant  'PAUSE'  button that could be pushed.  More of the norm is the messier, dynamic, and upgrade-while-the-plane-is-in-the-air approach, because our kids can’t wait.

Here are the remarkable things that are the same:

  • There are literally thousands professionals in these organizations who are committed to their life’s work of improving student learning.
  • The community of parents, businesses, and higher education institutions expects and supports a transformed learning environment for the students.
  • There are 10’s of thousands of kids, each of whom matters greatly and all which proves that there is no such thing as an average student.
  • The imperative still exists to integrate a learning positioning system and to fully deliver digital instructional materials.
  • The broadband divide *still* needs to be bridged.

So, once again, I commit to the audacious, because there is no acceptable alternative.  We have much to do, but the clock is ticking to deliver the access and learning environments our kids must have.   We intend, again, to do it in a way that serves as model for other districts.  Presumably, the biggest challenges will be what have actually become an old familiar trio of friends; Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  The trick is to take each of those and turn them into conversation starters and coaching opportunities.  Good thing that we have an exceptional team to get us there and that I can count on a great team of CTOs across the country.  See you at the next bend of the river!  

Kevin Schwartz serves as the Technology Officer for Learning and Systems for Austin ISD, a district of 83,000 students. He brings a CETL certification and 20+ years of experience in K-12 to the district’s challenge to, “Reinvent the Urban Education Experience.” Beyond Austin ISD, he invests his professional energy in CoSN and the TX K-12 CTO Council. Currently, he is the Past Chair of the Council and actively serves on the CoSN SEND and SmartIT committees. Kevin has been named as Winner of the TEAM Award in 2013 and the Grace Hopper Award as the Outstanding CTO in Texas in 2016. Kevin is a frequent presenter and a consultant to school districts that seek transformational changes in learning through technology.  He serves on multiple industry CIO Advisory Panels. Kevin can also be found on Twitter at @AISD_Reinvent

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