This school year, Holly Doe started as the director of technology for Maine’s Regional School Unit 40.
It’s not Doe’s first time being the director of technology—she also held that position in New Hampshire’s Bedford and Pelham school districts—but it still feels overwhelming in the beginning, she said.
Even though Doe is still getting to know Regional School Unit 40, which has about 1,800 students, she already has a lot on her plate, from making sure the technology tools are compatible with teachers’ curriculum needs to ensuring that the networks are secure.
In a Zoom conversation with Education Week, Doe outlined her priorities for the school year and the challenges unique to technology leaders in smaller districts.
This interview is part of a monthly series of conversations with school district tech leaders about the challenges they are facing. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are your main priorities for this school year?
The thing that’s really exciting is that this district is highly focused on the curriculum and they have a strategic plan that’s very delineated. They have specific goals, and they have them around technology. They have a five-year technology plan that was presented to me and they said “it’s in pencil, you can change it, you can modify as you need to, but take a look at it, evaluate what you think.”
That’s one of my huge goals this year is to evaluate this five-year tech plan. Let’s modify it as needed. Let’s understand what the teachers need. So I’m working with my department to try to [figure out] how do we best support teachers so that their quick questions get answered. But then long term, how am I going to help support teachers in their curriculum goals and their technology goals?
[Tech use] has to start with that essential question. It has to start with what the teacher objectives are. And if technology isn’t the tool that addresses that, then that may not be the right use that day.
Can you tell me more about that five-year plan?
A lot of it is about the spending and the sustainability piece. This was a district that wasn’t one-to-one [at elementary levels] when COVID hit, so they went fast and furious to one-to-one. Now they’re sort of in a spot where we need to inventory, we need to make sure that we have a plan going forward of how we’re going to replace devices.
The plan also looks at the software and how we’re purchasing and what we’re purchasing and do these things meet data privacy requirements. And how do we vet applications so that the teachers are getting the resources they need?
I have a feeling I’ll have a perspective that is probably more around how to fuse the curriculum initiatives with the technology as we go forward.
How is your district leveraging technology in the classroom?
A lot of them are using those products that are their textbook-supported products, things that align with their curriculum. They’re doing a fantastic job of demonstrating concepts, engaging kids in the content visually, and with sound and nature and things like that.
One of the things that we are doing is we’re bringing the Legos back. We have some coding labs that are coming into every elementary school, where we’re going to be using the Scratch coding software from MIT in conjunction with these Lego kits.
[While visiting classrooms], I’m amazed that these teachers have limitations in their classrooms. I’m used to seeing projectors on walls. We [at RSU 40] have [some] projectors on carts. But it’s also nice to have that perspective on where we can go from there. The five-year plan includes upgrading classroom technology over the next couple of years. But they do a great job using those tools in the classroom. And my goal is to get around and see what the kids are actually doing on their Chromebooks because I haven’t probably seen enough of that yet.
What are the biggest tech challenges facing your district right now?
Especially being in a small district, I think cybersecurity. All districts are saying that right now, but when you’re in a small district, and you have a small staff and only so much to spread around, it’s hard to get at what those weaknesses are and how you can address them, because typically it takes money to do that. It’s easier to evaluate those weaknesses when you come in new to a district, but it’s [hard to figure out] where to start.
[Hiring] is also going to be a challenge. We’re trying to hire a computer technician right now—that was in the budget—but we haven’t been able to, because there’s no one who’s interested in working that job right now.