Executive Director of Technology at NCSD
Helping to connect the dots between technology and education is how Derrick Brown, Executive Director of Technology at North Clackamas Schools District describes his role.
Father-of-three Brown moved from the technology arena to education and uses his simple and concise ways of communication to translate the vision of technology to teachers and students at NCSD. His personal motto is “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
NCSD is Oregon's seventh-largest school district and spans more than 40 square miles just southeast of Portland. The school district serves the communities of Milwaukie and Happy Valley, along with other parts of Clackamas County. It has 32 schools from elementary to high school and a total of 17,000 students.
Commenting on his motto Brown said: “I haven't always known what I was going to do professionally. But if I had an idea I would always try to get the help I needed from colleagues, mentors, and friends. I think it's important for our students at NCSD to always try.
“You might not always know what the goal is or what the outcome will be but the goal is to try and continue to dream. In light of the pandemic, I think it's more critical than ever that we keep moving. We have to dream, we have to keep moving, we have to innovate,” he said.
“I think one of my strengths is being a good communicator. Technology teams were always behind the scenes in the past with most CEOs of major corporations looking for someone who could understand technology, but not necessarily come up through the ranks within the technology department, and that was me.
“It is critical to understand the objectives, mission and strategy of an organisation, if you are the chief information officer or chief innovation officer providing solutions you need to be involved in the critical business of the organisation to help make informed decisions. I have now moved from technology to education and my business is now more about people rather than revenue.”
Brown’s first move into education was in 2005 when he relocated to the west coast of the US and took up a position at Portland Public Schools.
“I wasn't married and didn't have any children at the time and I wasn't familiar with classrooms and students, except my childhood experience. In 2006, I accepted a project management opportunity within a school system and the rest is history. The school district was going through a major transition and needed someone to understand and convey it in layman's terms.
“I started to help the students, parents and teachers to connect the dots of what that meant for technology. I had a mentor and saw an opportunity to be a strategic leader and
thought partner in education, that was more than 14 years ago.”
Brown now provides strategic leadership for digital learning, instructional technology, IT procurement, contracts, infrastructure and network operations, and enterprise applications, software and apps at NCSD.
He is excited about the transformation to a digital instructional ecosystem that focuses on ensuring schools, students, and staff have equitable access including access to devices and adopted digital curriculum and content.
“With greater access to technology also comes the shared responsibility of working together to help students understand digital literacy,” he said.
“I spent the first 12-plus years in the industry, telecom dot.com, working with various government agencies, all in technology by providing solutions for customers.
“My role here at NCSD is to be a strategic partner for teaching and learning which is the pilot for navigating students' success. We help them get there through technological advances, providing the digital instructional ecosystem and with our business partners in finance, human resources, communications, facilities/operations, and transportation.”
Brown describes his leadership style as democratic. “I listen and seek input from those that I serve. I serve my staff, my students, my peers, my cabinet members, my superintendent, and families and I want to seek their input to make sure that what we're doing aligns with their needs.
“This doesn't mean we're always going to agree, but at least we have an understanding of what we're doing and why we're doing it. We can then prioritise and adjust to make sure we are in alignment to the overall district's strategic objective.”
Brown said that he admired the founders of big organisations from Amazon to Microsoft and Facebook, the way they managed their people during the pandemic.
“They immediately recognised the benefits of working from home and many of them have extended this indefinitely. This provides tremendous flexibility for families, which in turn benefits the business so it is a win-win situation.
“Education's not quite there yet, but if we had been talking about teachers teaching from home and students learning from home two years ago, it would have sounded absurd. It wasn’t a conversation that we were having. But here we are navigating our way through the pandemic with parents becoming teachers and teachers teaching and being parents, all at the same time. We did it - we can do challenging things.
“What we have to look at now is what sticks, how do we continue to grow, and provide flexibility for the family and the schools.”
Brown has more than 26 years experience in various roles including five years as chief innovation officer for Evergreen Public Schools, three years as chief information/technology officer for Pulaski County Special School District, and more than a decade in healthcare, telecom, and other capacities in state and federal government agencies.
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