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Forecasting the EdTech Future to Support Sound Purchasing Decisions

A conversation with Kevin Schwartz, Chief Technology Officer of Austin ISD

Part one in a two-part series

Kevin Schwartz, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Austin Independent School District in Texas, will be presenting two sessions at the 2020 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) about the challenges and complexities facing school districts as they transform with innovative technology.

Implementing tech advancements in schools is not a fixed process, and Schwartz recognizes that there are inherent challenges to keeping up with the high rate of change. “If I lose sleep over anything, it’s that we’re not changing fast enough to keep up with what the world is implementing. Companies are implementing stuff at much faster rates than we are bringing kids to awareness and learning about new systems.”

Technology advancements need to be considered when making budgetary decisions, and decision-makers are faced with the daunting task of forecasting for tech purchases that may take nearly a year and a half to complete. “Our budget cycle, especially in a larger school district, is so long. We are now taking the first look at initiatives in November and December of 2019 for our 2020, 2021 budget. So, it might be stuff that I buy 18 months from now. And the world can change in that amount of time. The timeliness with which we can execute is important,” says Schwartz.

Additionally, many districts, especially the larger ones, have a great deal of budgetary competition between programs and services that directly impact what types of technology purchases can take place. Schwartz explains, “In a school district like Austin ISD, every dollar is already spoken for. So, you are healthy, but competing with everything else that the district needs to do. If I want to bring in a program that I think has real value, I may be weighing that against actual teachers and classrooms in terms of the dollars that are available.”

“Budgets are tight; lead times are long, and the arc of change is slow in terms of giving up ways we’ve done things in the past for what we should be doing today or, better yet, what we anticipate we need to have kids ready for tomorrow.”

Presenting the realities of change is an essential aspect of a technology officer’s job. Often, they see things developing before many in the education community have the time to take notice. Schwartz recognizes an interesting evolution taking place where, in many respects, everyone is a technology company, or more succinctly, “every company is definitely a technology company, or they die,” he warns. It’s important to remember that education institutions are no different in their vulnerability to the shifts in technology.

Keeping up with the ever-changing cybersecurity demands is of paramount importance to the technology team of a district. It’s not as simple as keeping the “good guys in” and the “bad guys out.” In today’s world, the barriers have dissolved, and the situation is entirely fluid. “We see situations where school districts are involved in world events, world nation-state situations,” says Schwartz. “We’re attacked for our infrastructure as much as we are for our content. We face every cybersecurity threat that a Fortune 500 company faces. We have to be at the top of our game.”

There are many operational areas within a large school district that require cybersecurity awareness. Outside of the curriculum concerns and administrative protocol, facilities as a whole require immense amounts of cyber-attention. Schwartz makes a parallel of a large school district lunch program to that of a restaurant chain:

“Austin ISD is the largest restaurant chain in Austin. We serve 80,000 meals a day at 130 restaurants. We happen to call them ‘lunchrooms.’ We are a big target with lots of information, systems, and horsepower. Our physical infrastructure [is a target] that someone might want to use and leverage. It can be an issue. I don’t think everyone sees all of what cybersecurity [entails].”

About Kevin Schwartz

Mr. Schwartz brings 25 years of K-12 technology experience to bear on issues of equity in technology.  At CoSN, he was named the national CTO of the Year in 2016 and his teams have been honored with TEAM Award in Texas twice.  Across 8 years, Kevin has led successful 1:1 implementations at 3 school districts and over 80 schools. These programs have also won multiple awards and honors while serving all learners.

Follow Kevin Schwartz on Twitter @AISD_Reinvent

Kevin Schwartz Sessions:

  1. W195$ | Taking the Plunge: A Deep Dive into 1:1
  2. C363 | Technology, Transformation, and Strategic Planning

The 40th anniversary Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) will take place January 14-17, 2020 in Miami, Fla. Registration is now open at Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)

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