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Why Richard Culatta Will Be the New ISTE CEO

The Rhode Island innovation leader hopes to use his new position to tackle tech challenges related to digital equity, next-generation assessments and transitions between high school and college.

After 18 months as Rhode Island's first chief innovation officer, Richard Culatta will become the new CEO of the nonprofit International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) on May 1.

The ISTE Board of Directors* had been looking for a new CEO since Brian Lewis' employment ended last September. Out of a 42-person interview pool, Culatta earned that spot because of his proven innovation record at the U.S. Education Department and the state of Rhode Island, along with a good grasp of the needs of ISTE's members, who hail from more than 92 countries and number upward of 17,000. 

"What’s really important is that the individual who’s serving as a leader understands how to take innovation from theory to practice,” said Mila Thomas Fuller, the board president.

An innovation guy at heart, Culatta led the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education for four years, first as a deputy director and then as the director. This office is well-known for its startup mentality, an approach he brought to Rhode Island in January 2016 as the state's chief innovation officer.

While at Rhode Island, he has helped Gov. Gina Raimondo rebrand the small state as an innovation lab that's working to change how government and education operates. The innovation team is progressing toward the governor's goals of every public school teaching computer science by December and every college saving students money by adopting open textbooks. He's also worked on the Government Innovation League, which brings leaders together across state agencies to solve problems they're facing, engage citizens and build tools. 

Culatta described his role at Rhode Island as a startup guy, and now his job is nearly finished.

"We've sort of proved that there is a good model there and we can get good value at the state level, and it's time to hand off the baton to someone else who can manage it in the future," Culatta said.

He also has been a long-time ISTE member and sees the potential for the organization to start conversations among educators about how to tackle challenges related to technology, including digital equity, next-generation assessments and a smoother transition between high school and college.

In his new role, Culatta will manage 50 ISTE staff and will be based in the organization's Arlington, Va., office. The board is hoping to see its new CEO build deeper, more meaningful member relationships while providing resources and services to help them. It also would like to see him explore and focus on innovative uses of tech for teaching and learning, along with guiding advocacy efforts and the organization's international strategy.

* Disclosure: Kecia Ray, the Center for Digital Education's executive director, sits on the ISTE board.