Successful IT Implementation Requires Breaking Leadership Silos

Chief academic officers and CIOs/CTOs must work together to align systems and goals for districts. This includes strategy for both procurement and implementation.

by / April 19, 2017 0

Educators sometimes feel as if they are stuck in a system filled with silos. Across the nation, school districts lament (and rightly so) about how courses are broken into subjects without giving students the opportunity to master competencies in different areas, while higher education and K-12 are separated out where there should be a continuous pipeline. What happens most often is the lack of integration between learning platforms, student information systems and other data systems that do not work in tandem. The time has come to break the silos and use leadership positions to work together in a comprehensive manner.

No leader is an island

Successful implementation of digital content only happens when the chief academic officer (CAO) and CIO/CTO share the same vision, align systems and goals, and work together. Efforts have been made across the country to focus districts on developing such partnerships. Superintendents often include the CAO on the interview team for the CIO/CTO, and vice versa, to indicate they will be working closely with one another to develop strategy and carry out implementation. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the CIO and CTO have worked closely together to develop a strategic plan of action, make decisions on procurement and determine how to implement their plan. This is a transformation from silos to a true focus on student success and school support, which ultimately results in district success.

As more districts shift to digital content, the CAO and CTO need to communicate to ensure that content and curriculum needs can be supported by technology. Decisions can no longer be made in the IT department by one party. Decision-making must be a two-way process with open communication in which the CAO and CTO/CIO work together to find the best solution for students. Districts that have successful implementations know this secret handshake, are able to maintain clear lines of communication and can maintain mutual respect for each department's role in decision-making.

From data poverty to data wealth

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is often referred to as an era of data poverty. The CIO/CTO and CAO didn’t have much in common or much shared responsibility. The CTO worked to implement devices and network needs mostly for administrative purposes. Many district technology leaders focused on building an infrastructure to manage student information systems that met federal accountability requirements, and they built data warehouses for district data while academic leaders tried to find the right instructional strategies to close achievements gaps they didn’t know existed.

The era of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be data rich. ESSA ushers in new opportunities that require data to be used in real time, and for a continuous feedback loop for students and teachers. This is especially true now that there is much more digital content generating more data that needs to be used effectively and stored properly. The academic and technology sides of school districts must work together to decide what is helpful and what is most efficient. For example, when academic leaders select digital content, they must review it for standards alignment and instructional value while the technology leaders needs to check the content for interoperability standards and to make sure it meets data security requirements. Without such coordination, significant details can be overlooked, which chronically impairs implementation.

This requires a change in how CAOs and CTOs interact, especially since the data is real-time and continuous. True transformation will occur when these two roles support one another in the district vision and goals of teaching and learning.


The CAO and CTO have a heavy influence over education improvements. The more closely they work together, the greater the overall outcomes will be for the district. Before districts had access to data in real time, it made sense for the two officers to talk only occasionally. But that era has ended. Today, CAOs and CTOs must work closely together on a continuous basis to ensure successful implementation of personalized learning models and the success of every student.

Connect with Kecia Ray and CDE:

Twitter: @centerdigitaled, @keciaray, @shoing

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Kecia Ray Contributing Writer

Kecia leads the Center for Digital Education's efforts to bring together thought leaders in education. She is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and lives in the Greater Nashville area with her husband Dr. Clark Ray and their son Wes.