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Tech @ Work

The Importance of IT Team Unity

Paul Romero, CIO at Rio Rancho (N.M.) Public School District

Paul Romero, CIO of Rio Rancho (N.M.) Public School District, underlines the importance of constant communication with his superintendent, IT staff and principals for his district’s success. Romero has been with the district, which is 20 miles north of Albuquerque with 15,000 students across 19 schools, for four years, but he has served in other districts in different capacities, including teaching. Romero believes that his firsthand knowledge of what goes on inside the classroom enables him and his team to tackle any IT problem, large or small.

How do you start a typical day?

Before the kids even get to school, I come in and meet with my technicians. We discuss their problems, concerns, and what they need to be successful throughout the day. This starts my day off well. My team and I have developed a relationship of trust.

What issues do you typically discuss in the morning?

Right now we’re preparing our schools for standardized testing, which is relying more and more on technology. We have one technology education specialist at each school, and we support them throughout the day. Sometimes, if they are running into a similar problem, we’ll bounce ideas off of each other. For instance, could the latest update from Microsoft have caused something to happen? Or they’ll mention a brand new teacher who is interested in getting involved with technology.

Has your background as a teacher and administrator in the curriculum and instruction departments at other districts helped you in working with these new teachers?

Absolutely. My background is in instruction, so I understand all the acronyms—for example, AYP or IEP—so we can really engage in a conversation. I don’t just ask the teachers, “What do you need?” but rather, “What can I do to help you?” I can prescribe, not just provide.

Why is having a strong relationship with the IT team so necessary for administrators in any district?

I’m meticulous at choosing the right IT staff. The only reason we’ve succeeded is because of the people we surround ourselves with. If you care about your team, you will get respect back. I ask them to do impossible things everyday, and they don’t even blink. I have five technicians and 7,000 computers across the district that these techs take care of.

How is your relationship with the superintendent and other district administrators?

Our superintendent [Sue Cleveland] is amazing. She’s really open to ideas and innovation. Our chief operations officer [Richard Bruce] formerly held my position, so he understands the challenges that come with it. Every day, I visit at least two schools. I consider that to be a perk of the job. I talk to the principals and education technology specialists at each site to discuss what problems they’re having or their individual goals.

How does your district deploy new technology despite financial constraints?

We’re finding ways to work within our budget and still use technology in an engaging way. Every classroom has an interactive whiteboard and a projector mounted in the classroom. We use handheld mobile interactive whiteboards called Mobi from eInstruction. They’re tablets that interact with the whiteboards; students can notate and share ideas while teachers facilitate the experience. We’ve also relied on online open-source materials, for instance, from the Kahn Academy [a nonprofit Web-based organization that provides thousands of education videos to teachers and students]. These supplement the curriculum at a reduced cost. We’ve also deployed a new Web site with SchoolFusion to allow teachers to communicate better with parents. When you don’t have money, you really need to get creative. That’s just the new norm these days.

Do you have a BYOD plan within your district?

We don’t have a BYOD plan yet. We don’t have the capacity in terms of bandwidth. We’re not a priority II district for E-rate, just a priority I. But it’s something we would like to explore and support down the road.

What would you do with $1 million?

Create a technology agnostic district, so that students could use technology provided by the school or from home in the classroom. With a proxy server, the only network they could hit would be mine, and would guide them to Web sites we deem appropriate. If I had that kind of money, I’d be working with schools to help kids become savvy digital citizens. I worry about them when they’re not under my roof.