12/05/2014 03:13 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Technology in Schools: How to Hire the Best People

It used to be easier to find good help. Schools would advertise for open positions with descriptions like network administrator, database manager, or technology coordinator and a flood of applications would come pouring in. The IT staff had roles and responsibilities similar to their peers in other sectors of the economy. The technical staff was technical. They kept the machines and networks operating in a secure and stable environment.

The Changing Role of School IT

Things have changed. The technical jobs in schools are now more strategic and service oriented. Cloud computing, SaaS, mobile devices, and Google Apps for Education have changed the game by offering free or inexpensive solutions to replace the traditional server/client configuration.

The future ain't what it used to be. - Yogi Berra

School districts are desperate for good IT help. They need people who understand the basic principles of teaching and learning, and have a high level of technical expertise. Schools are looking for lifelong learners who are ready and able to keep up with the ever-changing world of educational technology. They want IT professionals that can do less with more, and most importantly, never forget their service-oriented role as support staff.

Educators First

The best school IT staffers that I have worked with all had one thing in common, prior educational experience. The unique culture of K12 schools can be frustrating to outsiders. IT professionals with alphabet credentials will be chewed up and spit out if they can't win over the trust and respect of the classroom teachers.

When implementing a new protocol or system, IT directors must first consider curriculum, student safety, public relations, budgetary expenses, personnel training, and technical feasibility. They must clearly communicate their ideas to people who have little technical knowledge. Most importantly, they must explain how their proposed solution will help improve student achievement and add value to the school community. A school technology director is an educational administrator.

Show Me the Money

The average CIO salary is about $143,000 per year. The average Director of Educational Technology salary is $65,000 per year. With few exceptions, talented and capable IT professionals that aspire to leadership positions will first look outside public education.

However, working for a school district has its perks. Generous vacation time, excellent benefits, and a predictable schedule with almost no extra travel required. And, let's be honest, as a school IT employee you're not dealing with the same level of daily stress that you'd experience as the CIO of a bank, hospital, or business.

Hire Great People

Schools can save themselves a lot of headaches by hiring the right people. Recruitment starts with a well-defined job description that openly and specifically addresses the types of tasks to be performed. Lots of new titles like Digital Learning Coordinator, Director of Technology Literacy and Instruction, Director of Media Services, and Student Data and Communications Manager, are now being used to more accurately describe opportunities.

Time spent on hiring, is time well spent. -Robert Half

After initial review, the next step is the phone interview with selected candidates and their former employers. Spending 15-20 minutes on the phone with a potential candidate can save you (and others) countless hours wasted by interviewing the wrong person. Be sure to ask open-ended questions like, "What was your proudest moment in your previous job?" Or, "what would your former employer identify as your greatest weakness?" Then, follow-up with the previous employers and discuss the answers.

Once candidates are invited in for interviews, be sure to ask tough questions and search for areas of discomfort. Silence is okay. Don't feel the need to rescue your interviewee. Some of the most important information is revealed through patience. The interview committee should be made up of stakeholders representing the entire school community. Take your time and hold out for the very best people.

If you can't fill the position, consider outsourcing. There are many IT professionals that will help schools by fulfilling short-term contracts or working on specific projects at an hourly rate. The schools not only benefit from the expertise of the outside consultant, but they have the freedom to end the contract at any time. Outsourcing is may not be the best longterm solution, but it will allow time for schools to find the right person for permanent placement.

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