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Admin must be on board with innovation for schools to succeed, Zach Desjerlais says

Desjerlais, named a 2017 CoSN NextGeneration Leader, is a manager of instructional technology for Vancouver, Washington, schools.

Emily Tate
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Emily Tate Staff Reporter — Education

Emily Tate is a staff reporter at Scoop News Group covering education and technology for EdScoop, StateScoop and FedScoop. She writes about the lat...

Though he never quite expected to find himself in edtech, Zach Desjerlais has seized opportunities and spearheaded innovation in his Pacific Northwest district.

Desjerlais, manager of instructional technology for Vancouver Public Schools in Washington state, is one of CoSN’s 2017 NextGeneration Leaders — a distinction awarded to five emerging leaders with a proven commitment to K-12 education technology.

In just a few years, Desjerlais has helped the district move ahead through “a blend of sustaining the work that we’ve done … but also pushing, continuing down the path,” he says in a recent interview with EdScoop

When he first joined Vancouver's instructional technology team, the district was beginning to roll out its one-to-one initiative, dubbed “weLearn 1:1.” They have provided all high school and middle school students in the district with a device, and last year, they introduced the program to 5th grade students. This year, 3rd and 4th graders will be getting devices as well.

As they continue with the one-to-one rollout, Desjerlais’ team is working to improve and expand infrastructure in the district, with a specific focus on increasing the Wi-Fi capacity in elementary school buildings — other buildings have already been updated.

Already, Vancouver schools are connecting the devices with student learning outcomes, Desjerlais says. After equipping each 5th grade student with a device last year, the district held an “hour of code” event with them.

Almost 2,000 students and more than 70 teachers participated in the event, which allowed students to apply their coding skills to real-life activities and interactive games. It connected the dots for a lot of students by allowing them to see how they could "own that coding," Desjerlais says.

View more of EdScoop's interviews with innovative school CIOs.

As students and teachers in Vancouver schools have adapted to the new technology available to them, Desjerlais and his team began to notice that the administrators were trailing behind. It wasn’t the administrators' fault, he says. "What we’ve found is we’ve done hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours of professional development with our teachers connected to this weLearn 1:1 initiative. We didn’t specifically design anything for our administrators," he says.

In response, Vancouver Public Schools launched “Future-Ready Administrators,” an initiative to find out what administrators wanted to learn, what knowledge they lacked, what issues they had noticed in the district and how those issues could be addressed.

“There’s this gap,” Desjerlais says. “Very quickly we see that we cannot get to a sustainable model with technology, digital content, whatever the items are, without having that building leadership on board — and not even on board, they need to really lead it. That’s when it’s going to be sustainable.”

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