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Creating The Classroom of Now



Kansas City Public Schools: Creating The Classroom of Now WRITTEN BY




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Joe Phillips, Director of Technology, shares the leapfrogging that KCPS is undertaking in order to create greater student equity


igital transformation takes time and a considerable amount of resources, but for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS),

Joe Phillips, Director of Technology, asserts that his students cannot afford to wait. Few people understand the technological needs of the students more 04

than Phillips, who grew up in Missouri, knowing first hand the disparity in educational support provided to children across the state. Before he came to his current role, Phillips spent 16 years in the army as a Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Information Officer. Following an injury in Afghanistan he was medically retired in 2015. “Leadership breaks down into three components: purpose, direction and motivation,” explains Phillips, “and my time in the army really prepared me for my current position at KCPS in providing direction and leadership to our team.” Prior to his time at Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), Phillips was the Manager of Technology Support Services at Park Hill School District, where he received the 2018 Spirit Award. Just recently he was nominated for the CoSN CTO of the year award



Year founded

$100mn Revenue in US dollars

2,500 Number of employees

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for his work at KCPS. Yet Phillips is far

Classroom of the Future’, but our kids

more occupied with the achievements

don’t have time to wait for this,” he says.

of the district. “My key responsibil-

Phillips shares that there are currently

ity in this role is to use technology to

42 technology projects underway to

improve the lives of our students, and I

improve upon the district’s infrastruc-

am particularly invested as I know how

ture, cybersecurity and classroom

our kids feel and what they face every

experience. “Our largest project is the

day. They can’t wait several years for

district-wide refresh of technology,

change, they need it now in order to be

so that our students can get the best-

equipped for the future.”

of-the-best and our teachers aren’t

The key way in which Phillips is

hindered by technological difficulties.”

doing this is via a project he calls

At the core of these edtech initiatives

‘The Classroom of Now.’ “Many other

is a clear goal: to become the go-to

districts may have projects called

strategic partner across the entire

‘The Classroom of Tomorrow’ or ‘The

organisation. “If we can help every

“Many other districts may have projects called ‘The Classroom of Tomorrow’ or ‘The Classroom of the Future’, but our kids don’t have time to wait for this” — Joe Phillips, Director of Technology, KCPS

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS): New laptops CLICK TO WATCH




department improve upon their pro-

students when they go to college, or

cesses, procedures and technologies,

enter their career. We can’t simply keep

then we can truly improve the experi-

pace with other school districts; we

ences of our students.” This assistance

need to leapfrog our technologies so

may range from the effective technology

our students can remain competitive.

training of teachers, through assist-

Outdated technology won’t equip our

ing in the selection and deployment of

students for the future.”

active shooter simulation technology

KCPS is currently in the first year of

for the security department. “All of this

a five year edtech plan which aligns

comes down to equity: identifying the

with the district’s strategic plan and

challenges faced by our students in our

goals. “Often, an issue that you see

district, and helping them to overcome

with regard to others in my position

these challenges so that they can have

is that they decide on technology

the same opportunities as higher-SES

that they believe should be in place, w w w.kc publ i c sc ho ols . org

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they don’t necessarily work from the

To really articulate the scope of this

needs of the educators,” he explains,

transformation, Phillips details the

“This is where our team differs. We

conditions of the classrooms when he

see what our educators would like to

first started in his role in 2019. “One of

achieve in the next five years and we

my first initiatives was to ensure the

work backwards from there to pro-

implementation of iReady, however

vide the best processes and needs in

the elementary schools in the district

order to become aligned.”

had exceptionally poor technology.


Joe Phillips Before entering Educational Technology, Joe served as both an enlisted soldier and an Army Officer. During his tenure, Joe served in numerous positions including 10 years as a Chief Human Resources Officer and later as a Chief Information Officer. In both roles, Joe’s specialty was building new, and turning around poorly performing, organisations and departments for the Army. Joe retired from the Army in 2015 and joined the Park Hill School District in Kansas City, MO as the Manager of Technology Support Services. In 2018, Joe accepted the position of Director of Technology for the Kansas City Public Schools District and has spent the past two years completely transforming the department. Joe has numerous technology certifications, a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Missouri, a Master’s Degree in Business and Organisational Security Management from Webster University, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Liberty University’s Ed.D in Educational Leadership programme. w w w.kc publ i c sc ho ols . org




The laptops couldn’t hold a charge and the students didn’t have power outlets at their desks,” he explains. On Phillips’s 90th day as Director of Technology he approached his superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell and requested US$2mn. “Dr. Bedell and our board members are very supportive of the work we are doing and the project was easily approved.” After the first winter break, all students in grades three to six received new laptops, shortly followed with iPads for Kindergarten through to grade two. “This upgrade has made a huge difference on our ability to use technology to teach our kids as well as individualising our teaching for each student. We have also focused on reducing our average ticket time for IT problems and have been able to get it from 46 days down to under 48 hours.” In addition to this, the vast number of projectors are being replaced with OneScreen interactive flat panels, which were provided by Clary Co, a company Phillips cites as pivotal in standardising teaching for staff across all schools in the district, which, when paired with strong w w w.kc publ i c sc ho ols . org


OneScreen It's why students stay in class even after the bell rings.

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training in technology, has positioned

the technology, allowing for feedback

staff to be able to become more crea-

and amendments prior to the district-

tive and attentive with their classes.

wide rollout.

“Technology anxiety has the power to

As technology evolves, naturally so

undermine and destroy a whole trans-

does cybersecurity. “We have a layered

formation, so working with our Digital

approach to cybersecurity,” explains

Learning Team and making sure our

Phillips. “We have solid firewalls and

staff are trained and comfortable with

end point detection and response

these new technologies is paramount

software. We’re also following all NIST

to our greater strategy,” he says.

cybersecurity standards, CIS controls,

Phillips references Fred Davis’ 1989

CIPA, HIPPA, and FERPA where we

Technology Acceptance Model, which

modify it by grade range and the topics

was used as the framework for the

studied by students as needed.” KCPS

staff training. He adds that for every

also adheres closely to the Children’s

rollout, a school in the district will pilot

Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA),

“CTOs need to move from the basement to the boardroom: we need to be out across the schools and departments building strategic partnerships and really trying to understand what our schools and departments need from us” — Joe Phillips, Director of Technology, KCPS

which ensures stricter security levels for children under the age of 13. “It is so crucial that educators understand cybersecurity and the threat it poses,” he says. To illustrate the gravity of the situation, Phillips shares that on the dark web, a student’s information is worth around $30 a transaction, as opposed to that of an adult, whose data is worth around 30 cents. “It’s important to understand that simple solutions can have a massive impact.” He goes on to share that KCPS has an email address for students and educators to forward

Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS): IT Department CLICK TO WATCH



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suspect emails onto, as well as a warning banner that heads suspect emails external to the district. “From these solutions alone we have seen a massive decrease in phishing attempts across the district,” he remarks. A partner that has been integral to cybersecurity is Lightspeed Systems, which has assisted in a number of ways: piloting classroom management, staff monitoring and controlling what students see as well as the projection of work. Lastly, it provides a safety check that centers 14

around self-harm, bullying and anything else that may place students at risk. KCPS has already made great strides in the first year of this transfor-

education is valuable, and that they

mation and Phillips takes pride in this.

are valuable. Yet in my role, I need to

“My favorite part of this transformation

ensure that the best-of-the-best tech-

is seeing the impact. I grew up in this

nologies feel normal for our students

district and I remember how easy it is

and that they never feel that their

to succumb to feelings of inferiority

education isn’t as valuable as their

when relating to suburban districts.”

suburban counterparts.”

“Seeing our students, who have been

Looking ahead, Phillips makes his

using these depleted laptops, unbox

intentions clear: “It’s no secret that I

a new chromebook halfway through

want us to be the best K-12 technol-

the academic year was absolutely

ogy department in the world. I want

incredible. They’re durable and cut-

KCPS to be the first thing that people

ting edge and the students’ reactions

associate with K-12 EdTech, and not

were amazing; they realise that their

for personal ego, but because our

“We can’t simply keep pace with other school districts; we need to leapfrog our technologies so our students can remain competitive” — Joe Phillips, Director of Technology, KCPS


students truly deserve the best.” Phillips also wants to harness VR in

building strategic partnerships and really trying to understand what our

the classrooms, to take students on

schools and departments need from

virtual field trips. He is also interested

us.” Phillips says that KCPS is in an

to see how the role of 3D printing will

excellent position to accelerate to

evolve. “3D printing has been some-

transform from what he describes as

thing of a novelty, but I believe it has

“the underdog of school districts” to

the potential to serve a greater pur-

a Missouri leader, in time a regional

pose in helping students learn.” When

leader, and eventually a global leader.

considering his position in the wider industry, Phillips comments, “CTOs need to move from the basement to the boardroom: we need to be out across the schools and departments w w w.kc publ i c sc ho ols . org



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Kansas City Public Schools - April 2020  

Kansas City Public Schools - April 2020  

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