‘There’s Something to Be Said About the Collection of Talent That You’ve Brought Together’

‘…no one entity has a crystal ball, but I do believe there is something to be said about the collection of talent that you have brought together that can be predictive in providing direction and discernment…’

FUTURE FOCUSED | Dr. Donna Wright

EdTech Digest CEO Victor Rivero has assembled the top education leaders in the country to provide insightful, strategic advice and recommendations to companies so they are powerfully positioned to sell into today’s competitive K-12 markets.

Dr. Donna Wright was recently selected to serve on EdTech Digest’s Future Future Focus Forums (F3) Advisory Board. Educators have been chosen to serve on the prestigious EdTech Digest Future Focus Forums (F3) Advisory Board based on talents, strengths and experiences.

Dr. Wright has served in many roles in her forty-plus year career as an educator. She has positively influenced the educational field as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, deputy director, and prior to being named as the Superintendent of Schools for Wilson County (TN) in 2014, served as an Assistant Superintendent in Williamson County and Deputy Superintendent in Knox County Schools in Tennessee.

Dr. Wright earned her Doctorate in Leadership Studies from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She has been published in several educational journals, invited to present at national and state conferences, and has served as Adjunct Professor at various institutions of higher learning. She has earned numerous awards, including the Women of Achievement Award and the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce “Wilsonian of the Year” award in 2017. Dr. Wright was named “Superintendent of the Year” by the Professional Educators of Tennessee in 2016, selected as the “Superintendent of the Year” for 2019 by the Mid-Cumberland Region of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, and named the “2020 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year” by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

Under Dr. Wright’s leadership, The Center for Digital Education and The National School Boards Association recognized Wilson County Schools for its innovative use of technology for three consecutive years. In addition, Wilson County Schools earned Exemplary District Status for 2018-2019, with over half of the district schools recognized as Reward Schools.

Even amid an unsettling 2020-2021 school year, the district purposely focused on the diverse and complex needs of its many students and was recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education. In spite of a global pandemic and the devastating loss of two schools from a tornado that struck two weeks prior to the district-wide closure due to COVID-19, innovative, if not pioneering practices that were designed and implemented several years earlier allowed Wilson County Schools to continue to thrive under the ensuing adverse conditions. Wilson County Schools continued success has made it one of the fastest growing districts in the state and has seen a student population increase of over 60% in the last seven years.

After being invited to serve on the Future Focus Forums (F3) Advisory Board, selected based on your talents, strengths and experiences, what prompted you to want to really go for it and be a part of F3, and particularly F3—with its product-marketing focus?

“Having been a part of BLE as a sitting superintendent, I am intrigued by the forward-thinking similarities between the birth of F3 and BLE. I had the advantage as an academic to ask the probing questions from a different perspective than those who were on the IT side of the table. I do know that whether it was the time I sat on the BLE panels, and later ERDI, my input, sometimes, added another dimension to the panels and the presentations. I continue to be involved with companies who need the ‘critical friend’ approach as they work to bring their product to market. Currently, I am partnering with two universities who are working on AI platforms for literacy and math instruction, which I am excited about the possibilities of what they can bring to K-12 in critical curriculum areas.”

In the course of your work and activities, what to you is the importance of staying up-to-date on products and innovations for learning and education? 

“Even though I am ‘retired’ as a school superintendent, I am actively involved with school districts around the country providing assistance with district leadership. Much of the work/consulting is around strategic planning, data analysis, and determining what is the best/appropriate technology to support the district need. It is personally important for me to not only be current, but also to determine what products provide superior customer service and professional development (this is one of the most important areas where districts determine which RFP will provide the services, professional learning, and be on call when needed). I see this as an area that I could be of assistance to new companies bringing their products forward; are they relevant, innovative, do they serve a need—or are they one of many providing a dated service.”

‘I see this as an area that I could be of assistance to new companies bringing their products forward; are they relevant, innovative, do they serve a need—or are they one of many providing a dated service.’

Why is it important for senior leadership in companies (founders, product leads, marketing leads) to not only really have a strong sense of what school district technology leaders like yourself are going through and needing, but to connect with them and their realities in the most effective way possible? 

“It is important for companies to know what school district technology leaders are experiencing and needing, and to really connect with them—especially now that the market is really getting crowded with so many products that might be ‘good,’ but not relevant to what school districts are looking for to solve a multitude of issues that became evident post-pandemic, i.e., literacy, foundational skills in math, and ability to personalize instruction by providing teachers the efficiency of just-in-time data analysis. We are seeing companies still promoting products that were innovative 3-5 years ago and now are not relevant to the need — and we are seeing districts that purchased products several years ago — and they are no longer current or adaptable to changing needs within any school district.”

There are other meetings resembling F3 in our edtech field – what makes Future Focus Forums (F3) particularly unique and vital? What sets these customized-agenda-driven product-and-marketing / issues and challenges- structured focus groups apart and makes them absolutely necessary for company leaders?  

“What makes F3 particularly unique and vital is helping product leaders in maintaining relevance and meeting the needs of districts as they try to stay abreast of possibilities in moving the needle for students and supporting teachers. F3 will have the unique position of being current, available, and predictive in what district leaders need to contemplate for future purchases. I see F3 being able to assist districts in maximizing their dollars, specifically in guiding both district leaders and company leaders in fiscal decisions on what is allowable with federal dollars — and assisting with federal guidelines through the many government departments that hold purse strings. Several of us are working with districts in providing advisement with remaining ESSR dollars as deadlines are looming — making smart use of dollars that need to be wisely invested in products and innovation that have real possibilities and aren’t simply just using all the right buzz words.”

As we look ahead to the future of learning, and considering what F3 can deliver to company leaders, what advice do you have for those leaders to help make them more effective in reaching their goals? Why are these forums so vital to the future? Anything else you want to add or emphasize? 

“I certainly know that no one entity has a crystal ball, but I do believe there is something to be said about the collection of talent that you have brought together that can be predictive in providing direction and discernment to school districts as funding diminishes and wise decisions have to be made. So many district teams are needing guidance in how to invest in products and technology because they do not have the staff to focus solely on those decisions. It will become more and more difficult for school districts, small and large, to determine where to look, what to invest or not invest in, and is there integrity behind the company! I see F3 taking on the due diligence for school districts in providing panels, forums, presentations, and the expertise needed to make the best decisions in a crazy market that they do not have the time or staff to navigate. F3 could become the Gold Seal for school districts to turn to for advisement in products, product development, and innovation and a boon for companies in much the same way!”

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest and Executive Producer of EdTech Digest’s Future Focus Forums (F3 events). Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

Michael M. Flood is F3 Corporate Advisor. If you are a founder, product lead, or marketing lead and would like to learn more, reach out to Michael at mflood@alpinefrog.net


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