L.A. Unified CIO Talks Tablet Rollout

The CIO of one of the largest U.S. school districts shares lessons learned from an ongoing tablet rollout.

by / July 7, 2014 0
CIO Ronald S. Chandler from Los Angeles Unified School District shares his experience in an instruction-led tablet initiative with ISTE President Kecia Ray on stage at ISTE on June 30. Tanya Roscorla

ATLANTA — When the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District announced the launch of a tablet initative, CIO Ronald S. Chandler had a choice: Implement it or quit.

He chose to stick around, and is now preparing to move into the second phase of a device rollout that will eventually grow to about 640,000 tablets. Chandler shared why the second largest district in the country is embarking on this technology endeavor in a conversation at the ISTE conference on June 30 with ISTE President Kecia Ray and CEO Brian Lewis.

"For us, it's not a conversation about the device or the iPad; it's always been a conversation about helping these amazing teachers take it to the next level," Chandler said. "If we want to empower our students, which we do, we have to do this."

This focus on instruction and learning is reflected in the initiative's tagline: "Led by instruction, powered by technology." And the project leader for this initiative is a former teacher and principal who's working with other former teachers to implement it.

Because instruction leads this project, L.A. Unified staff learned by experience that they needed to engage teachers as soon as possible so they could move students to a place of excellence, Chandler said. The school district has more than 12,000 homeless students who come to school to eat, and staff needed a way to help them tap into learning no matter where they lived. 

One of the toughest parts of this project so far has been the negative backlash the district has received from all quarters. Many people don't want this device rollout to happen, and have actively resisted -- along with spewing venom in the comments section of news articles. 

L.A. Unified should have prepared for this kind of backlash and discussed how to deal with active and passive resistance around it, Chandler said. Instead, they got blindsided and had to fight on the public relations front from a trailing position. 

After the initial negativity, the district started running positive TV ads and spoke to press members who supported the initiative. Education technology leaders around the country sent tweets and emails to project leaders that encouraged them to stay the course. And in board meetings, some of them called into the district's meetings and advised board members to let the project staff do their work, Chandler said.

"We never would have imagined that that would be something that mattered in moving this whole program forward."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.