School & District Management

From CIO to Schools Chief

January 23, 2008 4 min read
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Chip Kimball became the superintendent of the 23,500-student Lake Washington School District No. 414 in Redmond, Wash., last year after previously serving as the deputy superintendent and the chief information officer for the district. Kevin Bushweller, the executive editor of Education Week’s Digital Directions, recently interviewed Kimball about the lessons he learned as a CIO, the biggest information-technology challenges he sees in his district, and other topics. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion.

Q: Before becoming a superintendent, you served as a chief information officer. What lessons did you learn as a CIO that are helping you now?

Chip Kimball

Listen to the complete interview with Chip Kimball conducted by Kevin Bushweller.

Chip Kimball became the superintendent of the 23,500-student Lake Washington School District No. 414 in Redmond, Wash., last year after previously serving as the deputy superintendent and the chief information officer for the district.
Kevin Bushweller, the executive editor of Education Week’s Digital Directions, recently interviewed Kimball about the lessons he learned as a CIO, the biggest information-technology challenges he sees in his district, and other topics. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion.

A: The first is being a systems thinker. Clearly, the superintendent requires highly effective systems thinking. Probably a second area is around vision. Most effective superintendents have, as a large part of their job, vision development. And I think that is true of effective CIOs as well. Most effective CIOs think quite a bit about the future and how to best prepare for that future. Lastly, I would probably categorize it around dealing with people and relationship development. The most effective CIOs actually understand how to work with people, whether it’s technical staff or working with teachers. Superintendents have the same challenge.

Q: Did you always see yourself eventually moving up to a superintendent’s job? And do you think we’ll see more CIOs making this transition?

A: Moving from a classroom teacher and then into a CIO role [which I did] was a bit of an anomaly, and then moving from a CIO to become a deputy superintendent, and ultimately superintendent, was also a bit of an anomaly. I always had a superintendency on the road map as a possibility along with other possibilities, such as working in a technical field at Microsoft or Apple or IBM or [Hewlett Packard]. As I thought more and more about it and the way that I really wanted to make a difference, the superintendency made more and more sense and was really a compilation of skills, which included leadership and people skills as well as technology and systems skills. I do think it is an interesting trend, and I do expect we are going to see more and more of these kinds of moves, especially as the environment around us becomes more and more digitally oriented and more and more information-oriented.

Q: What is the biggest IT challenge in your district?

A: Our biggest challenge is truly integrating technology so that it is a ubiquitous and transparent part of the instructional practice for kids. This is a cultural challenge as well as a skills challenge for a lot of our teachers. A second challenge is: As the [technological] devices become smaller, faster, and more a normal part of kids’ lives, how do we embrace those technologies to make them a part of the teaching and learning process? I am finding more and more that the teaching and learning that is going on inside of schools is becoming less and less relevant to where kids are coming from and what they need, and also less and less relevant for the skills they actually need for the future. Our job is to ensure that that connection takes place.

Q: In what IT areas do you think your district is in most need of improvement?

A: We are continuing to have a difficult time recruiting and retaining high-quality technical employees. And that is because we live in a high-tech part of the country, and we have to compete with companies like Microsoft [which is based in Redmond]. Another area of improvement for us is really grappling with how do we deal with embracing some of these emerging technologies. This is a challenge that is consistent across the country. [But] even though we live in a high-tech community, we do not adopt [new technologies] just because something is new and fancy.

Q: How do you think technology in education has still not lived up to its potential?

A: The places where we’re still learning a lot is how do you use technology in a way that really accelerates learning? It appears that the most compelling research suggests that when you have really good instruction, the implementation of technology can accelerate learning quite substantially. When you have poor instructional practice, the technology doesn’t make a difference at all.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as From CIO to Schools Chief

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