A Legacy and the Future
Well, I’ve had quite the week. I quit a job and accepted a new one. For those that may not know yet, I am leaving my current role Nov. 2nd as Manager of Information Services at Coquitlam School Board (SD43) to join the Vancouver School Board (VSB) Nov. 5th as their Director of Technology and Chief Information Office (CIO). Interestingly, I wasn’t looking for a change but the opportunity to serve in this new role became rather compelling. I’m very excited to make this change while simultaneously experiencing a sense of loss. After the announcement went out in SD43 about this change, emails started pouring in with shock, sadness, and congratulations. People shared very kind words with me about the difference I’ve made for them, their schools, and the District. It is very humbling and honoring… Shortly afterward, VSB made their announcement and emails started flowing in from folks there welcoming me to VSB. It was an emotional roller coaster of a week for sure. I thought I’d carve out a reflective blog post to share a few highlights of my time in Coquitlam and my thoughts on the future with Vancouver.
I will miss most, the people of SD43. My staff, the many teachers I know, the principals and vice principals, managers, senior staff, Board members, parents, and the students. I always say “a good day is one spent in a Kindergarten class” and I will miss my K’s!
Where to start… I joined SD43 Aug. 29, 2001 shortly before the dreaded 911. I was commuting back and forth for four months between Coquitlam and Nanaimo where my family and I were living, actually my home town for 38 years. The move to work in Coquitlam was like taking a job oversees! I was hired to replace my good friend and colleague Dan Turner (currently Director of Technology for Surrey Schools). I inherited a team of about 20 which increased overtime to 35 today. We were a pretty traditional IT group, dealing with hardware, software, and basic networking. Use of technology for learning was rare – busy / game use in elementary labs, specialist use in middle and secondary schools. Technology for education was a nice to have but generally not necessary in most classrooms. Business and communication systems were not used much beyond the Board Office except for email. Technology infrastructure was adequate for the types of use of the day.
Coming in to SD43 I brought a mind set of making change than asking questions later. Hey, I was young, eager, naïve, and I knew what to do, right? Wrong… I made a lot of mistakes, some unnoticed, but enough that were significant to cause quite a bit of conflict in the early years. Through the school of hard knocks I learned a lot about how to successfully consult, collaborate, seek input, acknowledge and honor others, share leadership, serve others, etc. I learned the value of relationships – this was a powerful lesson – and how strong relationships make it possible to successfully make changes and accomplish a vision. Even though the lessons I learned were often painful and very stressful, I’m not sure I would change a thing. Our past makes us who we are. I am a much wiser, more thoughtful, strategic, far more relational person than I was 11 years ago. This journey has prepared me for the next.
I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to accomplish along side many other great people (technologists and educators) in Coquitlam. On the technology side, we standardized and centralized the funding and support for core infrastructure such as networks, servers, data/file storage, databases, web systems, email/communications systems, and major software licensing. We secured our networks and systems. As a District we invested directly in elementary school technology to move use from game playing in dysfunctional spaces to digital spaces often rich with learning, not just in labs but increasingly embedded in classrooms with diverse devices, and educators who are very capable in their use of these tools. We invested directly in wireless access before anyone really understood why – this unleashed the use of technology in our secondary and middle schools. Doug Sheppard (now Assistant Superintendent, Delta Schools) was principal (a well respected leader) for Heritage Woods Secondary, our “hi-tech” school to first get enterprise wireless and pilot 1-1 laptop computing in 2002/3. In 2004, Chris Kennedy (now Superintendent, West Van Schools) was principal (great vision) for Riverside Secondary, our next generation “hi-tech” school where with a shared vision of the future, we designed and implemented our next wireless network to enable digital learning and teaching anywhere and on any device. Chris supported teachers with laptops, tablets, and other tools which increasingly wove the use of technology into the fabric of teacher and learning at Riverside. This set the standard for the rest of the District which still serves SD43 today. Wireless became like oxygen for us – you don’t have to think to breath when you enter a building and our vision was/is that you shouldn’t have to think to connect, it should just happen. I am thankful for our Boards support to create my43, an online environment designed to transform the learning and work of our students and employees. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Jill Reid (Coordinator) and the my43 Design Team for the tireless work back in 2005-2007 and since then, Martine Duby (Coordinator) and Wayne Atkinson (Team Leader for our Web Team) for continuing the design, implementation, and support for the 1000’s of users of my43. This is a key strategic legacy to leave with SD43. Although the technology isn’t perfect and my43 is in need of a significant upgrade and some new design, the long term vision I had for how digital systems should be created to connect and serve organizations and its people came to life in my43. This work has begun a movement in BC School Districts, using the same underlying technology, to design new portals, hubs, and dashboard spaces to support education and business. A final legacy I leave with SD43 is the rejuvenation of the network through investments in private fiber optic networks and network optimization. Our Board’s investment in this will serve the District well into the future and will release and enable innovative learning and teaching in digital spaces! I could probably write pages about the past 11 years and how proud I am of the work our people have accomplished but I think I’ll shift to the future now.
I am really looking forward to my move to VSB. What a gift to be able to join another organization and leverage the many lessons I’ve learned to make a difference along side people I’ve not yet met. I am so excited about the steep relating and learning curve ahead for me. A key priority for me will be relationships. I’ve learned that building solid relationships early will serve a vision of change and innovation more than technology, ideas, or personality. People are the ones affected by change, not systems and practices. Systems and practices should be designed to serve people, not the other way around. People need to be part of the journey – change shouldn’t be a surprise. Obviously (to those that know me) I love the possibilities technology brings to make change, make things better, make them different. Another key priority for me will be to listen, understand, and be highly informed. It will be important for me to clearly understand the context, the various perspectives, the current state of technology, systems, practices, the history, culture, needs, hopes, and desires, etc. This, along with relationships, should prepare me for the work in visualizing possible futures and advocating for strategic improvements, new initiatives, transformed practices, integrated systems, and new efficiencies. There are clear references to technology playing a key strategic role in the VSB strategic plan and how VSB will move forward. I am excited to be tasked with the responsibility to turn this into action for the future.
I leave one legacy behind while beginning a new one. Stay tuned to this blog for stories about the VSB experience. The journey begins Nov. 5th, 2012!