OETC Spotlight

The Triumphs of 2020

CIOs reflect back on their proudest accomplishments and moments from a spring that no one saw coming

Since schools closed in March, tech departments across the country faced challenges unimaginable only a month prior. We asked OETC members what accomplishments they were most proud of during a spring that no one saw coming.

They responded with tales of incredible teamwork, lightning-fast deployments, and new ideas. They mentioned distributing tens of thousands of Chromebooks, and getting their district to come around to 1:1 sooner than they imagined possible. They talked about teams who worked around the clock to move mountains. They highlighted the true sense of teamwork throughout all the district leadership, and getting to work with new people and departments.

Most of all, they described a time in which everyone, even the tech-averse, were able to see the true value of their departments, and technology writ large — the ways in which it means reaching students in new, personal ways, and the possibilities it opens.

Jump to an answer:

Rachel Wente-Chaney
High Desert ESD

My bright spots this spring:

  • A team that responded quickly and professionally to a sudden acceleration of the work they already do so beautifully each and every day — supporting teaching, learning, and all the humans trying to do both in our little corner of the world.
  • Introduction of live tech support via chat. (It’s a keeper!)

Joe Morelock
Newberg School District

Our success in moving to distance learning could only happen because of the unbelievably hard work of our technology crew. They did everything humanly possible to get our students and staff connected: got hotspots early, drove around the district to check for connectivity problems, made house calls to help families and staff, deployed hundreds of new IP phone numbers, trained bilingual staff to help with tech support calls, deployed thousands of devices, and supported staff training on tools previously unknown.

They worked (literally) around the clock to support every single thing we asked of them to make sure every student and staff member could access this phase of their schooling. I could not be more proud of our crew.

In a 32-year career, I have never been more proud to be an educator.
— David Roberts, CIO of Boise Public School

Kevin Johnson
Director of Technology
Fife Public Schools

I’m proud of how we in Fife were able to quickly provide take-home Chromebooks to a third of our elementary students. We are a 1:1 district but our elementary students haven’t taken Chromebooks home before. With a small crew, we were able to prepare and deploy enough Chromebooks to meet the need in a short amount of time. Challenges to overcome included COVID working restrictions and communicating with families in new ways and about things that were new to us all.

Allen Miedema
Executive Director for Technology
Northshore School District

We were one of the first, if not the first, district having to figure out how to respond, which meant we were having to make decisions about closing schools ahead of any real clear guidance from the State.

We met throughout that week and into the weekend, strategizing with leadership and different work teams around what it would look like to close some of our schools and transition to a remote learning model for a period of time. As we gathered more information, it became clear that “some” was going to be “all” and the timeframe was indeterminate.

What I was most proud of during that time was that I was able to send messages to the Technology Team from weekend meetings on the order of “Looks like we’re going to remote learning by the middle of next week … we need to have a plan to get computers to any kid that needs them, set up help lines for students and parents, and get some PD around distance learning going for teachers. We need to have services opened for access from outside the district, but in a secure manner,” and having the confidence that we had smart, creative, dedicated people who could immediately start coming up with plans. In fact, they typically were a step ahead of me and responded with, “… we were already thinking about that … here’s what is in the works.”

In the middle of all the confusion, I was incredibly proud of all the folks on the team. There was never any “we can’t do that” response … just good ideas and solutions.

131,040: The minutes needed to launch a changing course on an institution that has refused to change for nearly 200 years.
— Don Wolff, CTO of Portland Public Schools

Dan Bentson
Director of Technology
La Center School District

We have gone from carts full of Chromebooks spread out through the district to a one-to-one deployment for grades 6-12. The one-to-one move was not only not planned, but was poorly thought of by the district. We’ve had plenty of opportunity to re-think our position on that since then.

Without the pandemic crisis, I don’t believe we’d be offering a one-to-one program. I don’t think we could have offered one. But we are now actively planning to provide students in grades 6-12 with a Chromebook for their use next school year.

That’s quite a change we’ve gone through in the past few months. If you’d asked me even 4 months ago if we would be able to pull off a one-to-one deployment, I would have said it was not remotely possible. What a difference a few months make.

Steve Langford
Beaverton School District

When schools closed in mid-March, our team had to immediately move hundreds of office workers to remote work. District staff were largely unaccustomed to working remotely, so in addition to the technical lifts, significant training and support were required to ensure staff could successfully work in a remote environment. Within days, all staff had and received training on VPN, softphones, and videoconferencing applications.

Once learning shifted to distance learning, we did it again with all teachers, school staff, and even students and parents through a student help desk. The past few months have brought many challenges, but watching our team rise to support staff and students filled me with pride and hope. Technology has never been more needed than at this time and our staff not only accomplished amazing technology pivots, they did this while supporting staff and students so learning and work could continue.

What I was most proud of during that time was that I was able to just send messages to the Technology Team from these weekend meetings … and typically, they were a step ahead of me and responded with, “We were already thinking about that. Here’s what is in the works ….”
— Allen Miedema, CIO of Northshore School District

David Roberts
Boise School District

In a 32-year career, I have never been more proud to be an educator. The teamwork and agile response of our district showed the true heart of why we are in public education.

From teachers making personal contact with every student, to food service staff finding ways to safely feed thousands, from district leaders putting in innumerable hours to plan and meet every new challenge, to custodians cleaning and sanitizing every classroom — I am most proud of being a part of a team that cares and serves with humility, empathy and sincerity.

Stuart Long
Clackamas ESD

I’m so proud of how rapidly our department picked themselves up, shifted to offsite work, and then reprioritized all their work to support both districts and internal ESD staff with that same shift offsite.

Being an ESD, our mission is different than a school — we support districts, schools, and their staff, but not usually the kids. While my colleagues in the county were racing to deploy Chromebooks, at the ESD we were working to lift other work off of them to make their lives easier.

So that means everything from helping their staff understand changing state guidelines and reconfiguring Synergy to meet those changes, to driving a centralized advocacy effort to expand broadband in the community, and finally to helping them connect their teachers and staff with VPN and telephony technology. The fact that all that support work happened (and is still happening now) without missing a beat and with the same high level of professionalism is the thing that I am most proud of by far.

Our team’s resilience is stunning. I am so proud of everyone — it has been quite a ride, and it isn’t over yet.
— Jennifer Clouser, Executive Director of the Department of Technology at Auburn School District

Ron Cone
Executive Director of Information Technology
Kennewick School District

In Kennewick we had previously only supported requests from district staff at our helpdesk. We are very proud of opening up our helpdesk to both parents and students while adding a Spanish language option. This has helped both parents and students keep working on their learning. We are going to continue this offering through the summer and next school year.

Mark Finstrom
Highline Public School District

We have visualized the data related to Chromebook and hotspot distribution, which provided Tech Services and leadership with a new way to review location, use data and device proximity to other students or families. This visual has given insight into Internet access and provider fail points, as well as a view into additional needs for computing devices.

With over 13,000 chromebooks released in a three-week window and several hundred hotspots, Highline students can stay engaged and to become prepared for the future they choose.

The fact that all support work happened without missing a beat — and with the same high level of professionalism — is the thing that I am most proud of by far.
— Stuart Long, CIO, Clackamas ESD

Jennifer Clouser
Executive Director of the Department of Technology
Auburn School District

Here in Auburn, we are particularly proud of our whole technology team. Together, we shoved an additional 5000-plus devices out the door and home to kids and families, and deployed over 500 hotspots.

We set up device repair schedules for families and learned to solve problems remotely. Our amazing instructional technology team turned on a dime to support distance learning — their work is truly stellar.

As a system, we learned the basics about telecommuting in record time. Our team’s resilience is stunning. I am so proud of everyone — it has been quite a ride, and it isn’t over yet.

Don Wolff
Portland Public Schools

13 weeks: The amount of time it has taken to move a district from tech-averse and ill-prepared to focussed and striving for more, and better, for our students.

91 days: The sum total of time to launch a district-wide solution for student contact and engagement; transition 10,000 adults and 50,000 students to a single collaboration platform; harvest and deploy 16,000 devices and 2,100 hotspots; staff, communicate and launch a support desk for families in 6 major languages.

2184 hours: The hours it takes to become dependent on a newly created family and student portal which is the focal-point of all teaching and learning. The number of hours which comprises the largest professional development activity in real-time … while supporting that learning. The number of hours required to move learning technologies from side-dish to main course.

131040 minutes: The minutes needed to serve 700,000 meals to needy and hungry students. The minutes needed to launch a changing course on an institution that has refused to change for nearly 200 years.

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Compiled by Kelly Williams Brown

Past Spotlight Posts

Six things they wish they’d known: Veteran CIOs talk about how to survive a budget cut, strategic communication and the advice they would give to their past selves

A New World of Student Privacy: With closures come countless questions on student privacy and compliance— but few answers

Remote Zoom panel: How school districts are adjusting to security and support needs during school closures.

“It’s never going to be the same”: Hardship, frustration, and the surprising opportunities found in K-12’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dark web search engines, “zero-trust” models and your weakest link – Eight actionable cybersecurity practices your institution should follow according to Jack Maynard

Six employee communication tips from Know Your Team’s Claire Lew

Q&A: Tricia George on being named a Top 10 Innovative technology director

PSU CIO Kirk Kelly on how a department-wide overhaul landed them in the top 100 IT workplaces

Q&A: John Peplinski of Beaverton School District

Silverton kids get hands-on — and paid — with IT

How Salem-Keizer’s Bob Silva thwarted a $1.5-million phishing scam

Q&A: University of Oregon CISO Leo Howell

Newberg Superintendent Joe Morelock uses data to find invisible problems — and surprising solutions