Jean Tower balances innovation and student safety in Boston suburb

In the year-and-a-half since Jean Tower joined Needham Public Schools, digital learning and technology in the suburban Boston district has evolved rapidly.

From the outset, the director of media and digital learning noticed the absence of any guidelines for teachers on student privacy and security.

“There was nothing in place,” Tower says in a recent interview with EdScoop. “So one of my challenges was to create a process that … helped push innovation but at the same time look to safeguard student data privacy.”

She got to work creating a process and drafting guidelines for teachers, outlining how to read terms of service, how to look for age requirements and how to think about data privacy. She worked with technology specialists in each of the district’s eight schools, which together oversee about 5,600 students.

Getting up to speed on student privacy and cybersecurity issues was a daunting task for teachers, Tower says, but educators and staff at Needham have realized how important it is to think about and address these concerns.

“That’s a lot of work, but I think the message has gotten across that we all have to own this,” she says. “We can’t rely on one part of the school district to be in charge of everything to do with student privacy.”

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

Since joining Needham, Tower also has helped ramp up wireless internet and bring mobile technology into the elementary schools, which previously only had desktop computers.

“That’s been a really proud moment,” Tower said. “Teachers who were initially a little bit afraid of [mobile technology] and wondering why elementary school kids needed it are now totally gung-ho and have really taken it on with a really good perspective around innovation and teaching and learning, which is excellent.”