Features

Kenneth J. Thompson — Baltimore City Public Schools

Setting students up for 21st-century careers

The Baltimore City Public Schools are demonstrating that career readiness begins long before college by giving all students, elementary through and high school, access to the technology tools, courses and certifications that will prepare them for future careers in the digital world, some that don’t even exist yet. With 85,000-plus students enrolled the district is opening up many new opportunities, including coding classes, Microsoft and Cisco technology certifications, robotics classes, digital and broadcast student media programs and more, all in an effort to engage digital learners and better prepare students for careers in the 21st century.

“IT is really the foundation for everything in our district; we are in a truly digital environment at the Baltimore City Public Schools.”

Dr. Kenneth J. Thompson oversees the development, implementation and support all of the Baltimore City Public Schools’ technology as chief information technology officer. Focused on student achievement and educational results first and foremost, Thompson is dedicated to providing the IT infrastructure, services and technology that will empower Baltimore City Public Schools students to be competitive in future careers.

“IT is really the foundation for everything in our district; we are in a truly digital environment at the Baltimore City Public Schools,” says Thompson.

Thompson’s day begins at about 5:30 a.m. “I like to get up early and have time to review emails and see what the day looks like,” he says. “I have to prioritize because I oversee everything, from the IT help desk to application development [we have 65 to 70 applications — off the shelf, to ones we have developed in-house — to fit the business needs of the district], student information systems, the network infrastructure of 180 buildings, email, wireless, IT finance and much more — it’s all within the IT wheelhouse.”

To tackle all of this, Thompson collaborates and delegates important items to his team of 30 IT subcontractors that work for the district. The IT staff at Baltimore City Public Schools even includes 10 student subcontractors with IT certifications.

Focusing on Career Technology Education

The district has partnered with Cisco and Microsoft to offer IT certification courses for students through new Career Technology Education (CTE) programs, which combine targeted technology career tracks with academic achievement. “One of our goals is to allow our students to access these certifications so when they graduate, not only do they have a diploma, they also have these special certifications that truly stand out,” says Thompson.

Baltimore City Public School

Thompson fondly recounts a student that went through the CTE program and is a true example of the program’s success: “I’m especially proud of this single-mother student who went on to earn an associate degree in computer technology and now she works for a major technology corporation,” he says.

“Students with this skill set are what the big players like Microsoft, Cisco and IBM are looking for,” says Thompson. “It’s an honor to see one of our students go through this program and get picked up by one of the tech giants.”

Just this past summer the Baltimore City Public Schools IT department hosted 30 student interns, ranging from middle school to high school level. “They get to work with Cisco and Microsoft programs and they’re exposed to a lot of new things. For them to be able to actually touch a switch or access point or to learn to read code is truly exciting,” says Thompson.

Exciting new classes and programs that prep for careers

The district is also one of many nationwide to highlight the coding program in their schools.   “We already have four coding courses at the high school level and we have introduced some robotics classes for our middle school students, but we would like to add more.”

The Baltimore City Public Schools have increased programs within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) area. One of these popular programs is a student-run media team and TV channel. “Our student media team delivers important information to the school community,” says Thompson. “For example, we recently rolled out a new student information system. The student media team made a video about the enhanced capabilities of the system which was shared with all of Baltimore City.”

Building robust infrastructure

Thompson and his team are also paving the way for the district’s first 1:1 program, providing Lenovo laptops and tablets for select students in kindergarten through fifth grade. “All of our schools have a multiple gigabyte networks to support future 1:1 programs,” says Thompson. “Infrastructure has been a key component. This year we’re focusing on refreshing all switches and building Wi-Fi into all schools, and all common areas — even outside and after school areas.”

With the 1:1 program still in infancy, Thompson and his team are developing guidelines and key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine what success looks like. But luckily, the IT team is not going it alone. Thompson has been in close communication with the Baltimore County Schools about what the other nearby district is doing. “I engage in discussions with Lloyd Brown, the director of IT for the Baltimore County Schools, and we are talking about how we can share resources, platforms and programs that make sense and enhance things at both districts,” says Thompson.

Thompson also leverages more than 30 years in the IT field and experience in education to determine what the best technology decisions are for the Baltimore City Public Schools. “I have been fortunate to be exposed to all areas of education, K-12 and the finance, operations and academics side,” he says.

With two masters degrees, a doctorate and recently recognized as the Council of Great City Schools CIO of the year for 2016, Thompson has honed his experience and dedicated himself to IT education because it is the most rewarding area. “After all these years it still brings me great joy to walk into schools and see students having access to technology and learning from it,” he says. “This is something my generation was not privy to and this is where my motivation comes from. It is very satisfying to see technology functioning properly and students progressing in their academic and personal lives.”

Thompson plans to retire in a few years and when that day comes he will take pride in the fact that he has helped many students in the Baltimore City Public Schools learn digital tools and build desirable skills that will prepare them for 21st-century careers.

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