Q&A with Jean Tower on CoSN's new CTO guide

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DENVER – Jean Tower, the director of media and digital learning for Needham Public Schools in Framingham, Mass., helped build the new Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO, developed by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN). A group of CTOs gathered here at the annual ISTE conference to explore how to put the framework into practice, and how it can help them be better stewards of technology in the classroom.

Tower’s IT team supports 5,600 students at five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. She sat down with EdScoop for a Q&A, which is edited and condensed below.

EdScoop: How long have you been involved with CoSN and how does CoSN’s work complement what you’re already doing in your district?

Jean Tower: I’ve been involved with them for about 10 years, and been on the board since 2010 or 2011. I think when I first discovered CoSN, I thought of it as my professional home. These are people who are worrying about things I’m worrying about. At ISTE, I see classroom issues, and at CoSN, it’s more about leading technology in all those areas.

ES: What led you to build this framework?

JT: I was the co-chair on the group that created the Essential Skills Framework for CTOs in 2009 for individuals. When we were thinking about helping districts improve and move forward and get ready for the digital transformation, we thought more people in the district need to know about skills. What are the conditions that help remove obstacles and move a district forward? So it grew from the framework for the individual, and we tweaked it to apply for the whole school system.

ES: How did the framework change since you last worked on it?

JT: It really took a lot of collaboration, and we also have to talk about equity in that it’s the next big problem for education. And that has to be part of the leadership vision. In general, I think for people who are leading school districts, it’s becoming less about specific devices and more about pedagogy. So we’re finally getting to that sweet spot where we’re talking about personalized learning. We say things like, ‘encourage risk-taking,’ ‘it’s OK to fail and try things out.’

ES: What are some successes and challenges in your district?

JT: I’ve been in my district for one year, and when I got there, they were feeling a little behind in things. We didn’t have wireless yet in elementary schools. So my counterpart in infrastructure worked with me closely, and now we have wireless in every elementary school. We started mobile device pilots. In our middle schools, we started one-to-one [programs]. We’re really creating that plan to bring the high school online in a year, and for building capacity in our elementary schools. I would say there’s a lot of interest around collecting good data, so we’re targeting real core curriculum problems.

ES: What are you hoping to get out of ISTE?

JT: My first ISTE was 25 years ago. It’s more for teachers and less for technology leaders. I find sessions to go to with a broader view. One of the key things is that I sit with vendors and talk about product paths, so I can connect with vendors we use. So it’s a really good place to network.

[Read more of this week’s coverage from ISTE 2016.]

ES: Which vendors are you currently using?

JT: Follett is our library automation software. They now have a new product called resource management that’s not very expensive, and I can add it into my library software. I can assign students one-to-one devices out of the library. They’ll be barcoded and students can check them out of the library. This asset management piece means I can check it out for the whole year, but if an iPad breaks, I have an immediate tracker. And in one-to-one situations, some of the data record keeping is the challenge. So it’s a small thing, but it will make people happier when I come back and say, ‘We’re buying this.’

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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