Image of student wearing headphones and working on a notebook computer. Skill sets for school IT.

Multiple Skill Sets Required for School District IT Leadership

At the recent two-day 2024 District Advisory Council meeting in Austin, Texas, a group of Lightspeed Systems customers gathered to talk about the highest-priority challenges they face, along with best-practices for effectively addressing them. And while much of the discussion centered on technology and operational solutions, an interesting topic found itself mentioned often: the divergent skill sets needed for school district CTOs and IT leaders.

To say that K-12 education has faced disruption over the past five years would be a tremendous understatement. The global pandemic accelerated digital learning, pressing school district IT to respond practically overnight.

The wide adoption of 1:1 technology learning models, where each student has their own device, opened the door for unprecedented learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom. However, at the same time, it has also opened a Pandora’s Box of potential vulnerabilities for a district’s technology infrastructure and its data privacy. With this shift CTOs and IT leaders have had to respond rapidly, scale up their skills (and that of their teams) in three key areas.

Image of student wearing headphones and working on a notebook computer. Skill sets for school IT.

IT’s Role in Technology Infrastructure and Network Security

From smart boards to other district-wide IoT devices, from hardware appliances to students’ mobile technology, the IT function has always had an important oversight role for a district’s IT infrastructure. In CoSN’s State of EdTech Leadership Survey 2023 report, Modernizing Infrastructure remained one of the top priorities surfaced by CIOs, as it has been for the past ten years. As the same study indicated, an emerging priority is Cybersecurity for these K12 leaders—a new and increasingly important accountability for IT leaders over the past three years.

Unfortunately, malicious actors online currently view school districts as easy prey for cyberattacks. Comparitech, a cybersecurity and online privacy product review website, recently reported global ransomware attacks against K-12 and higher education institutions—breaching over 6.7 million personal records—had an estimated cost of more than $53 billion in downtime between 2018 and mid-September 2023.

Moreover, school cyberattacks are prevalent. Eighty percent of school IT professionals reported that their schools were hit by ransomware in the last year, according to a global survey conducted by cybersecurity company Sophos.

Accordingly, IT leadership in school districts must have a proven competency in network security and data privacy. Those leaders today must seek ongoing professional development in this shifting cyber landscape and have demonstrated experience in incident response, firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS), cloud computing, and more.

But, what about IT’s role in enhancing student learning outcomes?

IT’s Role in Facilitating Student Learning Outcomes

As learning has become more digital, the role of the CIO becomes even more intrinsically tied to the digital technology that helps support teachers and the work of curriculum leaders. Technology isn’t just switches and routers anymore, and IT leaders today find themselves a catalyst to support innovation.

As technology experts, CIOs must be collaborative partners with Curriculum. Teachers and curriculum designers seek ways to keep students engaged in learning, scaffolding learning for accelerated learners and remediating as needed. Today this is a mix of traditional and digital resources and practices.

In fact, the title ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ is seen in some districts in conjunction with technology. Technology leaders are often plugged into product development of education technology companies— the products being built to improve learning outcomes and professional development offerings. At LightSpeed Systems, for example, we have a Product Advisory Board and long-standing District Advisory Council meetings which provide critical feedback and guidance on our product priorities. In this vein, IT leaders can take on a consultative role, requiring active listening and building trust to understand the challenges and goals of various roles as each function works to keep kids engaged in learning.

Teachers and curriculum designers are important partners and customers of the IT function. As such, IT leadership must support technology adoption, deliver purposeful professional development, and ensure proper budget planning through the implementation and assessment processes of new edtech.

In many districts, CIOs and their teams engage with students on key technologies like coding boot camps, hackathons, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) learning days to help develop proficiency. With their knowledge and experience IT leaders have an important role to play in helping ensure their students are prepared for the future work and careers they will enter post-graduation.

Keep students on task classroom management featured. Skill sets for school IT.

IT’s Role in Fostering Student Well-Being

At the intersection of network security and classroom learning is a topic, and corresponding skill set, that is growing increasingly critical — student health and well-being.

Data shows a deepening mental health crisis in the United States, and children are no exception. Schools provide counseling and mental health resources for students, and, according to a 2023 study by the Institute of Education Services, seven out of 10 sought mental health support from their schools. And, per the CDC, schools are not just opportunities for threat detection, they’re opportunities for promoting positive social, emotional, and behavioral skills. Schools have an important role to play and are increasingly involving the CIO or IT leader.

With a 1:1 technology model, students have their own connected devices, and they confide in those devices in manners they often don’t with in-person communication. School district IT professionals need to understand that edtech solutions, like Lightspeed Alert™, for example, can be an important component of the safety strategy of schools, monitoring students’ digital behaviors and scanning for concerns that need to be addressed for possible intervention. The IT function is uniquely positioned within a school district to connect all constituents and stakeholders to address urgent and high-priority concerns related to student health, safety, and well-being.


The accountabilities of school district Information Technology teams have expanded over the past several years. While technology procurement and network security remain top priorities, collaborating with Curriculum, Safety, and Student Services departments to work together on technology solutions that benefit student learning outcomes and well-being are important priorities.