Challenges and Solutions in School Districts

Districts in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools have identified data interoperability – the seamless, secure and controlled exchange of data – as a serious challenge in maximizing the potential of the many digital tools and resources offered in their classrooms.


This article explores one League district’s journey to advancing data interoperability within its context — Cajon Valley Union School District in Southern California. You will also hear from district about what the data interoperability challenge means in their context.


While there are many data interoperability pain points, the following are the most pressing — implementation, rostering and login management, data privacy and security, and secure data transfer between applications. This blog will explore the challenges and solutions offered across the field, and ways to advance data interoperability in your district.


Seeing Student Progress


For Dr. David Miyashiro, the superintendent of Cajon Valley Union School District, the full potential of technology is tied to the information the tools can provide to support teachers and students. He says, “Tools and data help us capture the student lens so that teachers are able to intervene at the right time. Most districts focus on the devices, the programs, and the apps – but it’s really about the data, the learning, and knowing if the work we’re doing is having an impact.”


This perspective comes from experience; before becoming a superintendent, David Miyashiro was a principal and also taught at the kindergarten, middle school, and high school levels. He repeats the district’s vision often: “Happy kids engaged in healthy relationships on a path to gainful employment.” With 26 schools and 18,000 students, Superintendent Miyashiro credits the shift to digital technology and data interoperability as vital in reaching this vision.


He is also quick to credit the district’s success in supporting this technology-rich environment to the IT department. “Moving from a technology desert to a robust one-to-one [one device per student] environment was not without its bumps and bruises,” Superintendent Miyashiro notes, “but it was the right work and our technologist, Jonathon, is a wizard. His team is doing amazing things, and the tools they are providing are giving the teachers superpowers.”


Jonathon Guertin is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Cajon Valley Union School District. A large whiteboard covers an entire wall of his office and is filled with all the goals his department is working towards. Jonathon’s experience is rare. He first started working in district IT as a student, ended up taking a job with a student information system vendor, and then circled back to education.


His ultimate goal? “Students need to be just as aware of their data as their teachers,” Jonathon shares. “I really feel like that’s going to help them as they become adults and start to make goals for themselves.” To date, in the absence of ubiquitous adoption of standards across the field, equipping students with the ability to see and own their data has been a challenging goal.


Superintendent Miyashiro compares the goal of having a full view of student performance to a personal health record: “We’re able to unlock DNA and genomes and really have precise information about each patient’s blood type, and their indicators that are showing different signs of concern for cancer or health. That type of information is available at the school level for learning. To give that power to the teachers and to the students to understand who they are and what they need… I don’t think we can even imagine what the positive impacts are going to be yet.” Making full use of that data, though, is not easy.


Why Is Data Interoperability So Difficult?


Jonathon isn’t the only CTO tackling this work. Sharing data in a secure and accessible way is commonly shared challenge throughout education – whether a district is big or small, technology rich or poor, public or private.


Phil Hintz, the Director of Technology for the ‎Gurnee School District 56 in Illinois, explains, “We’re frustrated that we have a lot of good, longitudinal data from many years, but we don’t have a way of putting it all together in a packaged format that will inform our decisions so it can actually improve instruction.”


In a recent survey, some of the nation’s top Chief Technology Officers and data administrators in the League of Innovative Schools’ Data Interoperability cohort shared similar frustrations. Only 33 percent of districts reported that more than half of their teaching and learning tools are linked with their student information system.


The League is comprised of some of the most technically advanced districts in the nation, which begs the question: why is it so difficult to get our technology systems to share data to best equip our educators?


It all stems back to the lack of data interoperability. Megan Cicconi, the Executive Director of Instructional and Innovative Leadership at the Fox Chapel Area School District in Pittsburgh, states, “Something we’ve been talking about for years is this idea that our systems can talk to each other, and they can do so effortlessly without additional cost to our district… so we don’t have to upload CSV files or email [files] or hire a programmer.”


If your school is currently experiencing trouble on easy data import and export, feel free to contact FCS today. Send us a message for a free consultation.