How School Administrators' Roles Change in the Digital Age - Digital Promise

How School Administrators’ Roles Change in the Digital Age

Students and teacher

July 16, 2015 | By

Jane is the associate superintendent for instruction at Lincoln Public Schools, Neb., a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

Tune in to social media or the news on any given day and you can read about school districts making big changes to embrace technology in the classroom and spark innovative teaching and learning.

Amid the talk about the latest gadgets and apps, we’re often left wondering about the people responsible for executing the overall vision and managing the significant change in these schools. Who are the people that enable a school system to bridge theory and practice?

Three years ago, I came to Lincoln Public Schools as the associate superintendent for instruction, after serving as superintendent in a smaller district. In a new district of 39,000 students, I figured I would primarily lead the instructional division, somewhat independently from other areas not under my direct supervision, including the technology department.

However, that quickly changed. Within the first month on the job, our superintendent and school board identified technology as a major area of focus for our district’s strategic planning. We set out to design a comprehensive technology plan and digital conversion for our district. Immediately, instruction and technology were joined at the hip and my role expanded. We had eight months to design our plan for the future.

It quickly became very apparent that we needed many people from multiple areas to function as one team. I began working closely with our chief information officer to bring teachers, principals, technology specialists, and district staff into crucial conversations around technology’s role in our district. This group became known as the Technology Action Planning (TAP) Group.

Over the course of the next few months, we designed a technology plan that focused on four major areas: student learning, effective teaching, support for teaching and learning, and resources for teaching and learning. The plan was vetted through multiple groups using surveys, presentations, and focus groups, before it was presented to our school board.


We agreed on the “why” of technology in classrooms and now needed to move to “how” to bring the plan to our schools.

It’s these kind of stakeholders and this kind of collaboration that often go unnoticed in education. As we try to move education forward, we create new roles, new responsibilities, and new connections for our educators. There are many people like me and my colleagues trying to connect classroom learning to a superintendent’s vision, to bridge technology and instruction. This is the “change management” that is so important to schools but so often is overlooked.

The board liked our plan and we quickly began moving from philosophy and vision to practice and operations. We agreed on the “why” of technology in classrooms and now needed to move to “how” to bring the plan to our schools. We brought on operational staff to the technology planning group. A successful bond campaign assured us that we’d have the infrastructure we needed for successful execution in the classroom.

As the plan continued to take shape, our staff were asked to chart new professional territory – to learn, understand, and analyze new concepts. We realized we needed to search for other districts that could serve as models since what we were doing was so new to us.

Did we have the right leadership structure in place? How could we better facilitate the work between the technology department and the instructional division? Where did the authority lie for making key decisions? What professional development should take place to prepare everyone for this major initiative?

Lincoln is a long-time member of the League of Innovative Schools, and our superintendent, Steve Joel, knew the importance of sharing collective experiences around technology. We began looking to other districts in the League to show us their path. We targeted districts that were further along in the process of a digital conversion and visited them to see things first-hand.


We represent districts of differing sizes, socio-economic backgrounds, and geography, but our individual paths all converge around one single purpose – accelerating innovation through technology for all students, everywhere.

Because my role was constantly changing, I also identified key players in other districts who were counterparts to my area of responsibility. Through the League of Innovative Schools, I helped start a network of district leaders just like me: those who work with superintendents to develop and execute their district’s vision for digital transformation.

We (half-jokingly) call this group, “Everybody But Superintendents” (EBS) because of the variety of roles represented. Some members are primarily responsible for the instructional side of technology and know how to facilitate great teaching and learning using devices. Other members are focused on the “techie” side of things, savvy with bandwidth and bytes. They make sure the technology works. They see things through the lens of wires and hardware and know the importance of making the technology invisible to teaching and learning.

There’s a collective energy of innovation in this group. We represent districts of differing sizes, socio-economic backgrounds, and geography, but our individual paths all converge around one single purpose – accelerating innovation through technology for all students, everywhere.

This collaboration has a big impact in Lincoln. What started as an uncertain challenge is now a comprehensive, 10-year technology plan that is supported by our board and our community. It is far better than it would have been had we developed it in isolation, and it reflects the work of many districts who were willing to share their expertise, successes, and failures.

Whether we meet around the table or online, we know the collective impact of our work makes us, and our school districts, better.



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ryan imbriale

Ryan Imbriale

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108,000 students
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How has your role changed in recent years?

When I started this position two years ago it was a more narrowly defined role, focusing on instructional implications of our transformation of teaching and learning. Today the department includes our extended-year learning programs, extended-day programs, and all of our magnet programs. My role has expanded to ensure ALL students have opportunities to customize and personalize their learning environment. As we continue to learn from ourselves and others, my role will continue to change to meet the needs of our diverse district.

How does your work complement your superintendent?

My goals and the goals of my department should be a direct reflection of the superintendent’s goals. The superintendent cannot be everywhere all the time and cannot be expected to know the details, therefore my staff and I must make sure the work is getting done.



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Aileen Owens


South Fayette School District
2,780 students
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How has your role changed in recent years?

Initially my work was more of a grassroots effort. I spent a lot of time co-teaching in classrooms where teachers wanted innovative learning experiences for students. Our superintendent was able to create STEAM teaching positions and now we work together as a team to build computational thinking that’s aligned at every grade level. In addition, my responsibilities have moved toward grant writing, project management, and developing partnerships with businesses and universities.

How does your work complement your superintendent?
How does it complement teachers?

Our superintendent, Dr. Bille Rondinelli, has set the vision for the district and my role is to transform her vision into action. The beauty of the relationship is that as I encounter challenges she removes all barriers and obstacles along the way to turn practice into policy. In turn, I work with teachers to support their vision and to help them be successful in bringing their vision to reality.



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David Rose


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46,415 students
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… And what do you actually do?

I wish I could outline a typical day, but it ranges from talking with students and teachers about their expectations, needs, and experiences with learning technologies, to walking one of our 83 school modernization sites to discuss classroom layout and technology needs. In a district that is on the upswing, there is never a normal day. That’s why it’s so exciting to work in DCPS.

How does your work complement your superintendent?

I have the pleasure of working for a superintendent who truly gets the power of technology in the classroom. Chancellor Henderson creates an atmosphere of risk taking and part of my responsibility is to remove the barriers to make innovation possible.

How does it complement teachers?

DCPS has some of the most highly effective educators in the country. My job includes supporting an organic approach to new technologies. Our teachers discover the best things that work with their particular students, and my team is there to ensure they can use the best tools available.

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