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CDE Senior Fellow Recognized for Leadership at CoSN Event

Dr. Tom Ryan, a retired school CIO and Consortium for School Networking councilmember, received national recognition last week for a career of helping K-12 districts navigate technological challenges.

Dr. Tom Ryan describes himself as a data geek who loves to work in groups. If you want to be successful, he says, make friends with smart people.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit that helps K-12 districts in the ed-tech and cybersecurity space, would call that an understatement. The national organization recognized Ryan last week for decades of leadership and technical expertise in education, most recently contributing to a free resource for school districts to assess their readiness to adopt artificial intelligence tools.

The Seymour Papert Lifetime Achievement Award, named after a South African-born computer scientist who was at the forefront of AI development and is considered the father of education technology, was presented to Ryan on April 11 during CoSN’s annual conference in Miami.

Ryan, a retired CIO and strategy officer from the Santa Fe, N.M., school district, consults with districts across the nation as the co-founder of K12 Strategic Technology Advisors Group. He previously chaired CoSN and has served that organization in a volunteer capacity for 20 years.
Tom Ryan, senior fellow
Dr. Tom Ryan, Senior Fellow, Center for Digital Education

Ryan, also a senior fellow with the Center for Digital Education*, said he was “shocked” to receive the award and found the experience humbling. He was busy congratulating peers on their awards when his own name was called. During an interview with Government Technology Wednesday, Ryan more often referred to the words "people" and "culture," than he did "I," "me" or "mine."

“This whole business is about people,” he said.

The Chicago native said football was his main interest in high school, though he eventually gravitated to a career in education and moved west to New Mexico. As a teacher and then an administrator, Ryan learned about the power of data and the importance of personalization early on. In one case, he was able to ascertain why a student was having disciplinary issues by looking at the dates and finding they began after the boy’s grandfather died. Another time, when fellow administrators attributed a series of fights to a youth gang problem, Ryan dug deeper with data and discovered the disruptions were linked to a group of ninth grade girls, allowing faculty to resolve the issue with some straightforward conversations “instead of just dealing with the symptoms.”

As a CIO and then a consultant to some of the largest districts in the U.S., Ryan is credited for embracing rapid improvements in ed tech — from off-the-shelf software to cloud-based systems to AI — while working to keep humans at the center of teaching and learning. In navigating the future of AI in the classroom, he said, education leaders need to reflect on mistakes made over social media policies and the failures in balancing screen time with quality interaction.

“We end up focusing on the wrong questions,” he said.

To help school leaders focus on the right questions, Ryan and fellow CoSN and the Council of the Great City Schools developed the "Gen AI Maturity Tool," a series of checklists, rubrics and recommendations K-12 districts can use to evaluate their readiness for adopting AI for educational and operational purposes.

“AI is going to hit every aspect of education,” he said. “How do we help guide that?”

Based on the event's theme of “Leading for Innovation at Warp Speed,” other people and organizations awarded during CoSN’s conference last week include:

  • Kellie Wilks, chief technology officer of Ector County (Texas) Independent School District, receiving the Withrow CTO of the Year Award
  • Michael Nagler, superintendent of the Mineola, N.Y., school district, winning the EmpowerED Digital Superintendent of the Year Award
  • Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia being given the Community Leadership for Digital Equity Award
  • Aledo Independent School District in Texas claiming the District Team Leadership Award
  • Ari Flewelling, a technology and innovation consultant for CDW Education, being honored with the Hurley Private Sector Champion Award
  • Kris Hagel, executive director for digital learning at the Peninsula School District in Washington, winning Volunteer of the Year
  • U.S. Congresswoman Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, receiving the Excellence in Public Service Award
  • The Council of the Great City Schools winning the Partnerships That Matter Award
“Congratulations to all of our amazing award recipients. We are honored to recognize these visionary leaders who are shaping the future of education. Their commitment to ensuring equitable access to technology is paving the way for a more inclusive and innovative learning environment for generations to come,” Keith Krueger, CoSN CEO, said in a public statement.

*Note: The Center for Digital Education is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.