In today’s business climate, innovation is critical to business success, and IT leaders are pressed to consistently innovate at a pace that the business has come to expect. The expectations of IT leadership in the education space are no exception to this rule.
In this interview with Kyle Berger, CTO at Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, we break down just how complex the IT landscape has become, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its implications on education. GCISD is a school district of 14,000 students located in North Texas. In this interview, Berger discusses his expertise as an IT leader which spans over 21 years in K-12 technology leadership spread across districts of various sizes and demographics. Berger’s can-do, forward-thinking attitude has earned him marks such as Technology Director of the year for Texas, 2020 National Edtech Leadership winner, and Institutional Leadership award for interoperability. In 2022 Kyle was named one of the Top 100 Influencers in Edtech by Edtech Digest. His career has been centered on deploying a one-to-one program, revitalizing complete districts, and redefinition of technology for multiple districts all while promoting collaboration and teamwork.
In this interview, Berger discussed how he has watched the education IT landscape evolve over the last two decades and his thoughts on the future of this ever-changing space.
Following are edited excerpts of that conversation.
How did you get started in IT?
My career started in the corporate Information Technology world. It was a natural path for me as I studied IT. Unfortunately, I was entering the corporate world just as the dot com bust was happening, which presented its own challenges. My mother and father both spent their careers dedicated to education – mom, as a secretary, and dad as a corporate IT director. A CTO for a school district was a perfect mix of the two career paths for me. Technology in schools is typically overlooked in the education space which I see as an opportunity.
What has been your experience watching this industry evolve?
There’s been rapid change in the last couple of decades that has directly impacted the education space. Back in the day keeping email and internet going was the biggest concern – now it has evolved to an extent where technology is absolutely vital to student learning.
I see technology as a way to bridge the gap between the way kids learn and the way they live. If you can successfully execute that idea then they don’t even realize they are learning. The one-to-one tech program for our students was revolutionary in this regard. Technology will never replace the teacher in the classroom, but it’s opened the classroom up to the rest of the world.
Along with this technological revolution comes new challenges – cybersecurity being one of the major ones. Security is top of mind in the education technology space, and the majority of my job is based around that now. 24/7 x 365 availability is the new norm – it’s necessary to keep all of the school’s applications running. This has shifted our leaders to start thinking and evaluating everything through a more business-focused lens. ROI is more important than ever.
What are your thoughts on the future of the observability market?
In education, I think about observability through two different lenses. There’s the stuff inside the program, but there’s also the lens of the parent needing to be able to see into their children’s education. The ability to manage who has visibility into these systems has changed a lot. We need trend analysis because if we have reliability issues instruction can stop nowadays. When technology stops, learning stops. Being able to see inside all of that is tremendously important. More tech complexity does not come with more people to manage it. Ultimately, having a single pane of glass view allows us to do more with less.
You’ve been in this space for over 20 years – why have you decided to stay in IT?
The ability to press the limits for education. Effecting and empowering change starts in the schools. We are responsible for preparing these students for the real world and that is the responsibility we live with every day working in education. It excites me to continue to adapt to the future. If you don’t like change, technology is not for you. The field is huge, and there is endless opportunity. The future is in technology!
What advice would you give to someone just getting started in IT?
You have to come at this as a collaborative type of person – take suggestions and take feedback. Take time to prioritize networking and mind-sharing with other educators and districts. A true network will be more impactful than anything else in your career growth. Reading is very important to me – a leader once told me: “if you don’t have time to read you don’t have time to lead” and it’s stuck with me throughout my career.
What are your passions outside of work?
I’m passionate about many things – among those are traveling, experiencing the world, and tending to my family’s cattle ranch. Family is everything to me. If you can find a way to achieve the work-life balance that will allow you to go even further and accelerate your career.
What is the best advice you’ve been given in your career?
Realizing and harnessing the power of no – this has been vital to my success. If you are unable to master this you will inevitably end up taking on too many responsibilities which will lead to burnout. Take care of yourself first, be humble, and surround yourself with people who will challenge you. Always lean into the hard work and feedback.
You and your team were recently named the winners of Best Overall Implementation of Technology award – tell me about that? How did you prioritize the enablement of your classrooms in a virtual world?
When the transition to virtual classrooms happened, we were already in a good place because of the technology policies that we already implemented. We transitioned our entire district to fully virtual within 24 hours. Getting our stakeholders involved early and implementing their feedback into the design was extremely helpful. It was a chaotic time – everything was happening quickly and the goal was to not add additional work for our teachers. This was all new to the education sector. Our success was largely due to the fact that we were able to reach beyond education to learn how to roll this out, implement slow thoughtful training, and incorporate both teacher and parent feedback.