Digital School Districts Survey Has Lessons For Association and School Boards
The Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association work together to identify school boards and districts that have success implementing new technology to better serve their communities.
Being a successful innovator involves more than simply trying to implement the technology du jour, said Ann Flynn, director of education technology and improvement programs for the National School Boards Association (NSBA). “The key is to know your organization’s core mission, and then find the technology solutions that will help you to advance that mission.”
That’s the kind of thing NSBA and the Center for Digital Education look for when they rank the top school districts in the country in their annual Digital School Districts Survey—the 2014 edition was released last week.
The survey showcases how school boards and districts are using technology to not only govern the district, but also improve operations and communicate with students, parents, and the community. This year’s top school districts were honored for everything from a virtual high school offering 22 courses to 9,000-plus students to one offering an entirely digital curriculum.
“In the earliest years, this really was the electronic school board survey. It looked at what school districts were doing about their board meeting—were they moving to electronic agendas, to e-policies, becoming a paperless board?,” said Flynn. “As years passed, I won’t say every school board in America has moved that way, they certainly haven’t, but those were no longer distinguishing factors after the first several years, because it became so commonplace. We started to look explicitly at the kind of things that the school board would be able to enable with their vision.”
What the groups began to find were initiatives aimed at improving governance practices among school boards, many of which would apply to the association world—things like an easy-to-navigate websites, open lines of communication, and organizational transparency.
“If you do the math, we’ve got now a new generation of parents or association members that really don’t remember the world without the internet,” Flynn said. “Their level of expectation of what they can go on an association’s or school district’s website and discover is very different from even five or 10 years ago. You know, if they changed the monthly school cafeteria menu that was sufficient. And now they’re looking for much more interactivity.”
Flynn noted two characteristics that the successful school boards tended to share: They supported a culture where there was no fear of failure, as well as a constant focus on the mission of the organization.
“Regardless whether it’s for big-picture investments or down to the classroom level, we try to remind districts that they need to understand what it is they’re trying to accomplish and who they’re trying to accomplish it for, and then to not be afraid of changing things up or even failing at first” she said. “If people are fearful of punitive actions because of failure, that stifles creativity, it stifles innovation. Shift the conversation so it’s not just supporting the status quo, but always engaging in continual improvement. Just because you’ve always done something this way and you’ve had success doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to do it and be even more successful.”