The changing role of the school district CIO

Do you see yourself as a traditional or transformational technology leader? The reality is that we must be both!
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration's chief information and innovation officer.
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Click here for the second part.


It doesn’t matter what industry or business sector you work in today. The landscape for every organization is changing, and changing quickly. The rate of change for consumer digital technology and automation is resulting in organizations embarking on digital transformation strategies at the speed of light.

K-12 is not immune from this fast-paced and changing digital world. If you have ever attended a conference, summit or professional development event, you will find the word “transformation” in the titles of many sessions and presentations. At the heart of this transformation is the technology leader.  

The leaders of technology divisions must think of themselves as being part of the classroom experience—not as being providers of technology solutions. As a technology leader, you must face a new reality: Your district organization doesn’t need you and your department to build its own solutions since there are a growing number of cloud-based and digital service offerings out there. Because of this, all chief information officers need to focus their time and energy on building relationships at every level in the organization.

By establishing relationships and partnering with other leaders, the technology department can help accomplish the objectives in this changing landscape. Without these relationships and partnerships, CIOs can expect:

  • emergence of shadow IT across the organization
  • marginalization of the IT department
  • compartmentalization of the IT department into a “break-fix” role

The type of technology leader you are is currently a big debate. Are you a traditional or transformational technology leader? This isn’t the question we should be asking ourselves, however. The reality is that we must be both. The real question should be: How am I managing expectations?

Read: DA’s CIO Summits to focus on changing roles

At times, we must take on the role of improver. This entails traditional technology leadership activities and focuses on leveraging technology in more efficient ways.

Other times, we must take on the role of influencer. This is the bridge between traditional and transformational technology activities. Influencers work with the organization to think about and manage technology differently. They help members of the organization think through why they want to or need to change, and what they want to accomplish. Influencers deal with concepts that begin to touch on changing the culture of an organization.  

Finally, as a transformational leader, you still define and answer the “why” and “what” questions, but you also discuss and plan for how the organization will change. You must consider the organization’s capacity and the leaders’ willingness for change, starting with the superintendent, in order to drive that change throughout the organization. Transformational technology projects can’t be led solely by the tech department; leadership, implementation and accountability must span the organization.

Building relationships and understanding the types of technology leadership styles required in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing education landscape are important. In the second part of this article, I will outline how technology leaders can begin to lead with this mindset, regardless of current culture or climate.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I am excited to announce District Administration‘s new professional development series for CIOs. As a former CIO, when I attended an event, I wanted it to be thought-provoking, to challenge me on a strategic level and to provide takeaways for my district.

The theme for our 2019 CIO Summit series is “The Changing Role of the CIO.” We have engaged a powerhouse lineup of speakers who will provide practical leadership and strategic practices that you can take back to your district. 

Beyond our speakers, our summits will provide hands-on learning activities that will allow you to dig deeper into the content presented. You will also spend 2 ½ days working closely with your peers and establishing new and, hopefully, long-lasting professional relationships. 

For more information, I invite you to visit

Lenny Schad is technology editor-at-large and the chief information and innovation officer for District Administration.


Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration's chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.

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