The role of the CTO in school districts is evolving into one of the most important leadership positions in education, yet many who currently fill that job lack the skills and background to make the
John Orbaugh, CETL, has seen it all during nearly 20 years at Tyler Independent School District and 34 years working in technology. “The changes are staggering,” he says, recalling that “when I started in TISD we didn’t have much of a network to speak of.” Over the course of his career, John has built Tyler ISD’s first e-mail server, connected the district with digital circuits, and launched the revolutionary Tyler Virtual Desktop Solution. John is a true leader in his field and serves on state and local boards including: the Texas K-12 CTO Council (CoSN State Chapter); Texas Technology Consortium – K-12 Legislative Committee; SUPERNet Consortium Advisory Board; and Dell K-12 Advisory Council.
John works tirelessly to integrate technology into all aspects of education and is quick to recognize the importance of the entire district team, including teachers and administrators. That mindset led him to pursue the CETL (Certified Education Technology Leader) designation last year, because
“Of all the technology certifications I’ve held over the years, the CETL is without a doubt the most rigorous and valuable. The rigor and value, I believe, comes from the fact that it is not about technology in isolation, but rather how technology fits into the entire instructional and managerial ecosystem of the school district. The CETL preparation makes us stretch beyond our normal comfort zone of electronics, network protocols, and software so that we become more well-rounded and capable team members and leaders.”
His keystone achievement at Tyler ISD has truly fit technology into the district’s ecosystem. The Tyler Virtual Desktop Solution ensures students have “the exact same toolset, whether they are at home on a weekend or in the classroom” and addresses the difficulties of maintaining thousands of PCs sprinkled over 30 different facilities and hundreds of square miles while the district was poised to lose $10 million in major state budget cuts. Under John’s program, the user’s virtual desktop is housed in a central server farm and available anywhere, anytime, and on any device. The virtual desktop allows users to access their files from unusual or mobile devices and smoothes the transition between school and home. To date, the district has deployed 2,500 virtual computers by either converting an existing PC to a virtual PC or by installing a zero client computer. The program is green, relying on repurposed computers for students, and highly secure because no data is stored on a user’s hard drive.
Despite huge technical and budget challenges, John has made the Tyler Virtual Desktop Solution a huge success and transformed learning in his district. He directly guided every step of the process: researching options, working as a leader in the Texas SUPERNet Consortium to decrease the cost of internet bandwidth for member districts, forging community partnerships, managing the infrastructure and personnel for the project, and training other institutions on how to implement similar solutions. In all, the district expects to save $2.7 million over 5 years, improve the student experience, and reinvest the savings in education.
Through his career, John has kept his students a priority. He reflects,
“What is most rewarding is seeing how technology has the power to open the world to our students, especially those who would have been closed off…I’ve seen how technology can be used to enable a student who cannot speak to communicate and express himself or overcome his physical limitations. Technology has released the world’s accumulated knowledge, art, and music in ways we could not have conceived just a few years ago.”
Thank you for your work on behalf of students everywhere, John!