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Charting the Course: Insights from School District Leaders on Navigating the AI Revolution    

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to revolutionize public education, presenting unprecedented opportunities to transform teaching methodologies, enhance student learning experiences and streamline administrative processes within school districts. School district leaders, from the superintendent, the IT director to the school board members, all play a crucial role in understanding, evaluating and harnessing the potential of AI for the benefit of students, educators and the community. 

School districts must proactively prepare for the integration of AI into educational settings, recognizing it as a transformative force rather than a threat. Embracing AI technologies requires a shift in mindset from fear of the unknown to a proactive stance focused on adaptation and innovation. By staying informed about AI advancements, investing in professional development for staff and establishing robust policies and infrastructure, school districts can position themselves at the forefront of educational innovation.  

It’s crucial to foster a culture that encourages experimentation and exploration, empowering educators and administrators to leverage AI tools effectively for the benefit of all stakeholders. Failure to embrace AI risks leaving school districts behind in the rapidly evolving landscape of education technology, potentially depriving students of valuable learning opportunities and hindering the district’s ability to meet the needs of a diverse student population in the digital age. 

Understanding the Educational Impact of AI  

Dr. Jennifer Cruz, Superintendent of Pendergast ESD, underscores AI’s potential to revolutionize teaching practices by enabling personalized learning experiences tailored to each student’s unique needs.  

“AI has the potential to change the way we teach in public schools. Instead of the same lessons for everyone, AI can help create personalized learning experiences for each student. This means teachers can spend more time guiding and supporting students, helping them learn in ways that work best for them,” Cruz states.  

This shift towards individualized instruction empowers teachers to allocate more time to guide and support students, fostering deeper engagement and improved academic outcomes across diverse learning styles.  

Moreover, Dr. Cruz emphasizes the imperative of ensuring equitable access to AI-driven resources and addressing concerns surrounding data privacy and digital literacy.  

“As we embrace the integration of AI into schools, it becomes paramount to conscientiously address the ethical implications and safeguard student data privacy. Implementing robust data security measures is imperative, alongside delineating the suitable end users for AI applications, particularly those utilizing generative AI,” Dr. Cruz said. 

Robust data security measures and comprehensive stakeholder education are essential for the responsible integration of AI into educational settings. 

Transforming Infrastructure with AI Integration  

As AI technologies become increasingly prevalent, IT directors anticipate significant transformations in school district infrastructure. Russell Deneault, IT Director of Creighton ESD, highlights AI’s potential to enhance insights, streamline operations and bolster cybersecurity measures.  

“Artificial Intelligence is the most recent shift in continuous technology advances that are increasing the rate of acceleration in technological improvements and dependencies that impact the personal, educational and professional lives of every staff member, student and our communities,” Deneault said. 

“AI promises technological advances to improve insights into our data, processes and outputs, and even simple improvements to time management and communication. Such promises are equally potent for systems working to interrupt operations; think hackers, advertisers and other bad actors seeking time, attention and income,” states Deneault. 

From next-generation antivirus software to AI-powered productivity suites, AI tools are revolutionizing how districts manage data, communicate and safeguard against cyber threats. Deneault adds, “AI is already present in a number of technology infrastructure systems districts use. Next-generation antivirus software intelligently consumes and processes data from thousands of computers on our networks to detect anomalous activity and shut down threats in a way that antivirus software from just a few years ago was not capable of.”  

Deneault emphasizes the importance of maintaining strong data privacy policies and providing ongoing staff training to ensure safe and effective AI implementation. As we move towards a more AI-driven educational landscape, Deneault recommends the following steps to take to ensure that districts’ IT infrastructure remains secure and resilient against potential cybersecurity threats and data breaches associated with AI technologies:  

  • Focus on data privacy and include AI along with other technology considerations with selecting with whom we share our data.  
  • Build cyber resiliency utilizing tools that might incorporate AI – expect bad actors to do the same. Be as secure as possible while also planning responses to threats. 
  • Educate staff and students alike in the potential and limitations that AI offers, including awareness of the massive increase in how quickly these tools are changing.  
  • Build an environment that supports using approved, trusted, tools and resources. 

Leveraging AI for Student Success: A Board Priority  

For school boards, leveraging AI to enhance educational outcomes and support student success is a top priority. Tadeo De La Hoya, ASBA President-Elect and Gadsden ESD School Board Member, stresses the need to start initiating the AI conversation at the board level.  

“Understanding AI is crucial for school board members as it directly impacts our ability to govern effectively. AI technologies are rapidly transforming the educational landscape, from personalized learning experiences to operational efficiencies. We must get on board and grasp these advancements to ensure they serve the best interests of our students and staff, align with our educational goals and uphold additional standards,” Del La Hoya said. 

Most people are still learning about AI and only a small percentage are currently using it. What steps can we take to become more familiar with AI’s potential? Del La Hoya urges other school board members to begin the AI conversation, “From a governance perspective, familiarizing ourselves with AI is not just an option but a necessity. Most of us are in the very beginning stages of understanding AI’s potential and limitations. We have to start initiating conversations on how we can make informed decisions about incorporating these technologies into our lives – from the board room to classrooms.” 

Addressing Ethical Implications and Policy Considerations  

As AI continues to permeate public schools, policy staff grapple with the ethical implications of its integration. Dr. Charlotte Patterson, ASBA Policy Analyst, emphasizes the importance of policies governing student data privacy, algorithmic bias and equitable access to resources.  

“While Arizona has not statutorily defined AI compliancy in public schools, districts do have compliancy mechanisms to manage it in their policies. Enhancing their policies for academic integrity, employee ethics, management of student information systems and employee databases and use of personal devices would address many of the most common issues,” Dr. Patterson said. 

Policy language that supports ethical AI integration and empowers educators to navigate its complexities is essential. By fostering a culture of innovation and ethical AI use, school boards can ensure that AI-driven initiatives enhance educational outcomes while upholding the values of transparency, equity and accountability.  

“District governance that supports and encourages teacher growth in technology equips administrators to guide their expectations wherever teachers are in their technological proficiencies. Encouraging teachers to ‘catch up’ with technology is good for education in Arizona’s public schools,” Dr. Patterson concludes. 

Shaping the Future of Education with AI  

In conclusion, as AI reshapes the landscape of public education, school board members play a pivotal role in navigating its implications and opportunities. By understanding AI’s potential to personalize learning, streamline operations and enhance cybersecurity, boards can empower educators and students to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.  

Key questions arise, including: 

  • How can we ensure equitable access and ethical use of AI-driven tools?  
  • How can we foster collaboration among stakeholders to maximize AI’s potential for student success?  

It’s imperative for school boards to proactively shape the intersection of AI and public education, leveraging it as a force for positive change and innovation. As we embark on this journey, let us remain committed to harnessing AI’s transformative power to create a brighter future for all students. 

School district leaders can learn more at ASBA’s Annual Law Pre-Conference, Sept. 4, which will focus on AI and other emerging technology topics and initiatives. 

In addition, ASBA Policy Subscribers should be on the lookout for a new Policy Advisory on AI as well.  You can find this article in ASBA’s Spring 2024 Journal Magazine along with other important information and updates.