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What Does a Chief Technology Officer Do in Schools?


Only recently have educational organizations adopted the practice of using “c-level” titles for those in management positions. The superintendent of schools is typically recognized as the chief executive officer (CEO); that individual manages and leads a team of senior leaders, such as the chief financial officer (CFO), who is responsible for the business functions of schools, the chief academic officer (CAO) who is responsible for all aspects of teaching and learning within the school, and the chief operations officers (COO) who is responsible for facilities management and similar functions, and the chief technology officer (CTO) who is responsible all aspects of the information technology systems within the school.

These and others comprise the senior school leadership team, and these individuals typically work in the central office and are responsible for multiple schools in a school district. Of course, no c-level executive managers work and lead in isolation, so—at the highest level—decisions are made to satisfy the needs and limitations of the entire organization. The c-level manager is responsible for both advocating for the needs of their area of leadership, then to implement decisions within that area. The role of the CTO in schools is to advise the other top-level leaders on the nature of the existing technology, the steps necessary to maintain it, and the potential changes that will improve it.

Of the many responsibilities assigned to the CTO, perhaps none is more important than those involved with installing and upgrading information networks and securing them because of the nature of the data stored on them. The CTO also advocates for financial and human resources to maintain those networks and supervises the professionals hired to manage the network and all other devices.

For much of the history of computers in schools, a single individual was allowed to decide what technology to buy and how to install it. The rationale behind this practice was that those individuals held specialized expertise, so educators and leaders were willing to defer to those with greater expertise. That decision-making method often led to ineffective technology and even conflict. Technology decisions were made for technical reasons with little regard for the effects on teaching and learning. As CTOs have been integrated into technology decision-making in schools, there has been a shift towards making technology decisions for teaching and learning reasons, but that is not yet systemic.

The individual who serves as the CTO in a school is likely to have qualifications similar to the others on the senior leadership team. These individuals are likely to have advanced degrees and years of experience managing technology; as the team of IT professionals becomes more diverse, this individual provides directions and leadership more than they spend time configuring devices or troubleshooting problems.

However, when necessary, this individual will assist in whatever IT emergencies arise. Ideally, the CTO will also have experience working in schools, but many hiring committees opt for individuals with technology experience over school experience.