Five emerging K-12 technology leaders who are changing the game


The 2018 class of NextGeneration Leaders — announced Wednesday, ahead of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) annual conference — is as distinguished as it is diverse.

Together, this year’s five winners have orchestrated the largest Chromebook deployment in the United States; they’ve introduced and implemented digital learning tools to students and teachers in more than 600 schools nationwide; they’ve fostered authentic relationships with edtech vendors and earned the trust of parents, educators and administrators; and perhaps most importantly, they’ve done all of this while putting students at the center.

The NextGen Leaders Program — co-produced by EdScoop and CoSN — recognizes up-and-comers who are making a difference in K-12 education technology.

To be considered, candidates needed to possess a spirit of technology leadership in K-12 education, be currently employed by a K-12 school or district and have no more than five working years as an education technology professional. This year — in the third iteration of the program — CoSN sought to identify emerging leaders who reflect the racial, gender and ethnic diversity of America’s classrooms.

“The winners’ accomplishments are impressive,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “It’s exciting to see the next generation of edtech leaders representing ethnic and gender diversity, rural organizations and areas where there are special needs to be met.”

The finalists will be honored March 12-15 during CoSN’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. During the same week, each will be featured in a profile published on EdScoop.

The 2018 NextGen Leaders are Aubrey Harrison, personalized digital learning specialist at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina; Yan Li, director of research and analytics in the Office of the CIO at the Mississippi Department of Education; Sophia Mendoza, director of instructional technology initiative, Los Angeles Unified School District in California; Jon Gregori, instructional technology specialist at Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia; and Eddie Sawyer, innovative technology solutions coordinator at Vancouver Public Schools in Washington state.

In addition to training teachers in about 170 schools to prepare for the country’s largest Chromebook deployment, Aubrey Harrison has also set himself apart by revitalizing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ video library.

A few years ago, shortly after assuming his current role, Harrison launched the “Tech Minute” video series. The one-minute videos guide teachers on topics related to technology integration and troubleshoot common questions that would arise during class. The videos have become so popular that others districts in North Carolina — and districts in other parts of the country — now use them for professional development with teachers.

Yan Li’s expertise and experience lie at the intersection of research and technology — a unique position that gives her a leg up in understanding and protecting student data.

When she was finishing up her doctoral program in 2015, Li received job offers from FedEx, Amazon and a number of banks, but she opted instead to serve students and the public at the Mississippi Department of Education. Already she has done that through her work updating the student information system, redesigning the department’s website and conducting research. She’s now looking forward to her next career challenges, which include helping the department modernize its student database and launching an internal data dashboard.

Not only does Sophia Mendoza have an impressive background in technology integration and K-12 leadership, her work in edtech is all about paying it forward to students in the school district that she grew up in, from kindergarten on. “I am homegrown LA Unified,” she said in an interview — the rest of which will be published in a full profile next week. “It was very important for me to give back to the district that gave so much to me.”

Mendoza has made an effort to improve communication and collaboration among LAUSD departments, such as procurement and information technology, so their projects and planning are not siloed. She has also helped expand the district’s professional development and computer science education opportunities.

Having found his way to instructional technology through a studio art class, Jon Gregori is an obvious candidate for championing STEAM education — and that he does, through things like a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University and STEAM lessons with health and gym teachers.

Gregori also devotes a lot of his time to supervising and mentoring a dozen edtech coaches who train teachers. In this capacity, his team likes to use a tactic they call “guerrilla coaching,” which means introducing new or different ideas in a way that feels natural and organic to the teachers. It’s all part of his effort to promote deeper learning in Henrico schools.

Since completing a successful one-to-one initiative that put 20,000 iPads in the hands of Vancouver students in grades 3-12, Eddie Sawyer has been able to shift his attention to other priorities in the district.

Students in grades 2-5, as well as those with special needs, are now spending dedicated time every week coding thanks to a computer science education program in the district. Sawyer is also focused on building out Vancouver’s makerspace offerings, which already includes 12 makerspaces that are filled with 3-D printers, robots and other technology tools.

All candidates for the 2018 program had to be nominated between Dec. 11, 2017, and Jan. 8, 2018. Then, the education community — including school IT leaders, instructors, technology specialists and advocates — had from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5 to weigh in on the nearly 30 semifinalists, who were featured on a special voting page with photos and short profiles.

Last year, the NextGen Leaders Program highlighted another cohort of rising stars, including a systems administrator from Wisconsin; a manager of instructional technology from Washington; a technology integration coordinator from Indiana; a supervisor of education technology for a Pennsylvania charter school; and a director of e-learning and curricular innovation from Indiana.

Corinne Lestch contributed to this report.