Insights from CoSN Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity Winners

Innovative Technology Solutions to Address Digital Equity: Award-Winning Collaborative Leadership Strategies edWebinar recording link


Every year, CoSN awards a school district with the Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity to encourage and recognize those districts that are working to eliminate inequities and narrow the digital access gap. In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, representatives from Desert Sands Unified School District, CA (the 2021 winner) and Santa Fe Public Schools, NM (the 2020 winner) presented their keys to success.


Strong support from the board meant the districts had the resources (people, money, and time) as well as the mandate to ensure digital equity. But it wasn’t just a top-down request—district leaders worked with stakeholders across their community to understand what their needs are and how the district could help. In both districts, equity and helping students develop 21st century skills emerged as a core mission. And as the leaders worked on equity, they would not only report back to the board but continue to involve other stakeholders in the process.


As with all school initiatives, the most important aspect is to communicate the “why” to the community clearly and frequently. In addition, leaders need to keep them apprised of progress.  But it isn’t enough to have administrators talking about it—what the community really needs is to see and hear from students and teachers. Their real-world experiences are the best ambassadors for any initiative. Finally, they had to make sure they understood any concerns. In the case of Santa Fe, they had to help the community understand the tech was there to enhance the teaching and learning process, not replace the student-teacher relationship.


In education, the key to change is perseverance because the community is better at executing than it is at innovating. In Desert Sands, for example, they wanted to make sure all students could be connected no matter where they lived, but using different service providers—the typical solution—would prove costly over the years. So, the district actually developed its own LTE network. This required not only careful planning but also a willingness by district leaders to stick to the plan and not abandon it at the first hiccup. At Santa Fe, they focused their efforts and resources on innovators and early adopters—people who were willing to do the change. Once leaders could show how the changes worked for this group, they were able to get more staff on board.


Every district plan has goals and outcomes, but both districts cautioned that you need to make sure you’re not just talking about test results. Have smaller goals for each step of the plan so you can show progress to your community and see where you might need to course correct. In addition, you want to make sure you’re developing a system that can be reproduced.

Public-Private Partnerships

Scott Bailey, Superintendent of Desert Sands Unified School District, likened developing a new initiative in K-12 to trying to build a dream home on a starter budget. Every district needs to find partners who can help achieve its goal. That can mean anything from helping with startup funding to meeting unexpected needs. In Santa Fe, for example, they worked with a local nonprofit to fund internet access for families when hotspots and other solutions just weren’t working.

Finally, all the presenters agreed that developing initiatives is pointless if the district hasn’t also planned for sustainability. That means it’s a part of the budget, both the startup and the maintenance, and you’re not relying on grants to keep the initiative.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA.

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About the Presenters

Scott Bailey is the superintendent of schools for the Desert Sands Unified School District, which serves 29,000 students in the Coachella Valley of Southern California. Prior to his superintendency, Scott served in various teaching and administrative roles in districts ranging in size from 9,000 to 314,000 students. Throughout his 30-year career as an educator, Scott has earned the distinction of Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year, and received numerous senatorial, gubernatorial, and congressional recognitions. In 2010, he was appointed to the Baldrige Board of Examiners by the U.S. Department of Commerce. He is passionate about continuous improvement, enjoys engaging in global professional learning networks, and serves on numerous local and national boards. He was recently recognized as a 2019 Superintendent to Watch by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). He says, “We need to teach students the way they want to learn, not necessarily how we were taught.” You can follow him on Twitter @scaughtsb.

Dr. Kelly May-Vollmar has worked in education since 2004. She served as a classroom teacher, academic coach, site principal, and chief innovation and information officer (CIIO) prior to starting her current position as Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. She served as CIIO for Desert Sands Unified School District for three years. For the last two years, she has served as the assistant superintendent over educational and technology services. Her experience has allowed her to marry the technology and the educational services departments. As a technology leader in California, she has had the honor of receiving several awards. She was awarded the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) California Technology Administrator of the Year award in 2019 and the California IT in Education (CITE, formerly CETPA) Educational Leader of the Year award in 2020. Most recently, Dr. May-Vollmar and her superintendent were awarded the CoSN Community Leadership for Digital Equity Award.

Dr. Veronica C. Garcia’s calling to achieve educational transformation began as a teacher of students with individual differences, disabilities, and special needs. Her 48-year career includes serving as New Mexico’s first cabinet secretary for education under then-Governor Bill Richardson, Superintendent of the Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS), a position she held twice in 1999 and 2016, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children and Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators. Through it all, she has been a leading voice on ensuring students’ rights to a sufficient education. Notably, in 2017 she was the first to testify in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit that resulted in the court ordering the state to take immediate action to resolve deep inequities and barriers to education faced by at-risk students. Dr. Garcia retires as SFPS Superintendent in June 2021. She plans to continue impacting students’ lives through advocacy and consultancy.

Dr. Tom Ryan has recently retired from Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico as Chief Information and Strategy Officer. He co-founded K12 Strategic Technology Advisory Group to assist district leaders to deliver educational success with technology, which is led by experienced school technology leaders. He has expertise in strategic planning and leadership, designing digital learning environments, and technology infrastructure reviews.

Dr. Ryan has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. He has served as CIO in large and very large public school districts and has 40+ years of experience and expertise in teaching, leadership, technology integration and blended/online learning program development.

He is past Chair of CoSN and works with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) performing large school district reviews and helps coordinate annual CIO conferences. Dr. Ryan is a senior fellow for the Center for Digital Education and presents at several international and national conferences throughout the year.

About the Host

Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director for Educational Technology in Klein ISD, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 educators serving 50,000 students. She was co-chair of the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.

Today, Ann works as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Advisory Board, ClassLink’s Senior Advisors Group, and is a founding member of ERDI’s Alliance for Education Impact Advisory Council. She also volunteers as a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann is the co-author of Life Lessons in Leadership, available on

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CoSN CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education.


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The summary of this presentation was written by Stacey Pusey.

Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with as a marketing communications advisor and writer.