Technology Dreams Fulfilled

Critical Care

Tech Innovation Showcase companies deliver on ‘what ifs’

Ann Lee Flynn

Some of the first educators and administrators I met upon joining the National School Boards Association 25 years ago were cautiously optimistic about how technology might improve education — from the classroom to the boardroom and beyond.
In those pre-internet days, there were lots of “what if” and “wouldn’t it be great” discussions about everything from creating a digital portfolio for each child to automating telephone systems that could deliver parental notifications. Some ideas materialized and thrived, like ParentLink, founded by CEO John Graff and acquired by Blackboard in 2014. Other dreams were simply too ambitious or too labor intensive for the technology speed and access of the era.
The companies selected for NSBA’s 2017 Technology Innovation Showcase exemplify just how far we have come to make some of those early dreams a reality. Their solutions allow educators to do more in less time by streamlining tasks in ways that would be next to impossible without technology.
The ability to identify a real challenge in K-12 education and then employ a technology-based solution to create a new corporate opportunity that solves the problem is a key criterion for selection as an Innovation Showcase company. NSBA invites submissions each fall from young companies that are addressing issues within teaching and learning, district operations, parental engagement, or community outreach.
Submissions are reviewed and selected by a team of NSBA’s former “20 to Watch” educators. While NSBA does not formally endorse any company, the Showcase was created to remind school administrators and board members that, as new technologies continue to evolve, they must be open to looking at new approaches. As American scholar and organizational consultant Warren Bennis once said, “The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”
The parents of today’s students are bringing their own set of expectations about how schools should utilize technology. In a 2017 report, Pew noted roughly nine in 10 Americans use the internet. The parents of a school district’s youngest students do not recall a world without access it. The 2017 Showcase companies utilize technology to effectively deliver 21st century information and services to all students and their families.
It was during a 1998 NSBA site visit in Colorado’s Cherry Creek School District when I first heard the term “mission critical” linked to the robust and reliable operation of a district’s technology infrastructure. The notion made perfect sense if teachers were expected to build their instructional plans around online resources.
Now, two decades later, many districts still struggle to deliver that “mission critical” reliability, resulting in the perfect opportunity for founder and President Brad Sandt to launch k12itc. Recognized as a 2010 “20 to Watch” educator when he served as director of technology for Missouri’s Park Hill School District, Sandt had a dream. He wanted to build a technology model that bundled every aspect of a school’s IT infrastructure, connectivity, and maintenance into one efficient package. k12itc is helping more than 450 districts across the nation find efficiencies in technology to save money and provide better service. As a company that only serves K-12 clients, it focuses on the technology so customers are freed to focus on education.
Allovue, a pioneering education finance technology company, is perfectly positioned to support K-12 school leaders as they prepare their financial reports for compliance under the new regulations from the Every Student Succeeds Act that requires greater transparency.
“Allovue works with school and district leaders to alleviate their concerns around additional financial transparency and to reduce the administrative burden of producing per-pupil expenditure data,” says Jess Gartner, the CEO and founder of Allovue.
Recognizing social networks are an important part of student and family life, Living Tree set out in 2012 to revolutionize how those who educate children connect, collaborate, and coordinate. Its company website describes how it leveraged the power of Web 2.0 principles to build a patent-pending hierarchical/contextual social network that emulates the natural organization that exists in a K-12 educational system.
One user shares: “Imagine, a network built especially for those in the K-12 education system where you don’t have to worry about external distractions like unwanted advertisements or inappropriate material. LivingTree offers a safe and secure network where the most important ‘trending topic’ is the students.”
FreshGrade delivers on one of those “what if” dreams of the early 1990s with its research-backed portfolio & assessment tools. FreshGrade allows teachers and students to quickly capture learning in digital portfolios with a platform they can use to provide feedback and track progression with a variety of custom assessment tools.
While parents receive ongoing communication about their child’s learning, students get the opportunity to self-reflect on their growth. The FreshGrade tools promote collaboration between teachers, students, and parents and provide a seamless way to track and monitor growth over time with a data dashboard that identifies students’ strengths and areas for growth.

Ann Lee Flynn
NSBA’s director of education technology


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