There’s a new state innovator at the helm of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and it’s someone who has his finger on the pulse of all things E-rate.
Todd Lawrence, E-rate coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education, officially moved into his new role as board chairman late last month at SETDA’s Emerging Tech Forum in San Antonio. Amid edtech conferences and acclimating to the new position, Lawrence talked with EdScoop about what’s in store for the next year and how he got into this work in the first place.
Since starting at the education department five years ago, Lawrence has been building relationships with key players at the federal level, including at the Federal Communications Commission and at the Universal Service Administrative Company, which have a direct influence over how much broadband access and E-rate funding states and districts will receive.
“I believe I’ve positioned myself at front of the line to get the best information [from those] federal connections,” Lawrence said. “That then helps our school districts.”
During his tenure as chairman, he said he will continue to foster those relationships so SETDA can best serve its purpose as both a liaison between federal and state education agencies and as an advocate for school districts.
By staying attuned to E-rate announcements coming out of the FCC, for example, Lawrence expects to work with SETDA members and partners to share ideas and offer feedback at the state level, then take those suggestions down to the individual schools and districts that will actually feel the repercussions of a policy change.
And with the direction of education and technology policies remaining unclear under the Trump administration, Lawrence said SETDA plans to collaborate with other leading edtech associations, such as the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), to advocate on behalf of educators, technology specialists and administrators.
“[The associations] got together and made a collective force for a louder voice because … who we represent is different, but the topics are exactly the same,” Lawrence said. “It filters from the state, to the district, to the teacher.”
And, of course, he said he will help foster SETDA’s relationship to its members and partners, allowing both sides to be a sounding board for the other.
“We just have to continue being that leader, being that voice, being that advocate of educational technology and digital instruction, and keep doing the things that give students across the country every opportunity to be successful, [and give] teachers every opportunity to be the best leaders they can be,” Lawrence said.
Although Lawrence has made a home for himself in edtech, he took an unconventional path to get there — and one that only began about midway into his career.
Lawrence spent 15 years in the technology industry, working first for Micron and then for HP as a business analyst. But in 2009, when he was still at HP, Lawrence was laid off.
“It was kind of, like, my sign,” he said. “This was my push, my opportunity.” And although he now recognizes that was not the job — or lifestyle — for him, if HP hadn’t made that decision to let him go, “I’d probably still be there,” he added.
So Lawrence, who comes from a family of teachers, decided to go back to school and earn a graduate degree in education.
He spent the next three years in a classroom, teaching special education and 6th grade, before an old colleague from Micron approached him with another opportunity that would allow him to combine his technology and education experience in one role.
“It was a blending of two worlds,” Lawrence said of his position as an edtech services coordinator at the Idaho Department of Education. “It felt good. It was the right thing.”
Since taking that job, which later evolved into a role as the state E-rate coordinator, Lawrence said his professional life has been richer and more meaningful than ever before. And he expects his latest undertaking atop SETDA will be no different.
Part of the appeal of the chair position, he said, is because it’s uncomfortable and unnatural to him. “I have to put myself in these uncomfortable situations,” Lawrence said. “I was honored to be selected by my peers. I have to trust in that a little bit. It’s definitely a learning process, from a professional standpoint. There’s no doubt about that.”
Lawrence succeeds Candice Dodson, director of eLearning at the Indiana Department of Education. The pair worked together closely during the last year, when Lawrence was chairman-elect and Dodson was chairwoman, and they intend to continue that partnership during Lawrence’s tenure.
“I’m excited for Todd,” Dodson said in an interview with EdScoop. “He and I have had a great relationship this past year, and he’s been so helpful to me as I was chair.”
“I know he’s well prepared to step into the chair role,” she added. “He also brings a great energy and has a great disposition — he’s really smart but very open and laid back.”