This post is from the June edition of SPU’s School of Education On Point newsletter. This article featured alumnus Dr. David Engle who currently is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Townsend, Washington and was a member of the first doctoral cohort.
My time at SPU prepared me for the superintendency in many important ways. First, my experience at SPU helped me deepen my spiritual connection to my work. I’ve always been keenly aware of the need to inform my leadership purpose with fundamental spiritual values in order to lead authentically. Next, the relationships I developed within my doctoral cohort (SPU’s first doctoral cohort in education, by the way!) over the course of my program were to prove incredibly encouraging and supportive over many years. I was honored to be part of a group of aspiring, talented, and committed leaders and thinkers for those few important years. The rich dialogues and conversations we had together built our capacity to think systemically and holistically. The doctoral program challenged me to grow as a leader.
What was your path to becoming a superintendent?
My path to becoming a superintendent was a bit convoluted. After serving as a high school principal in Bellingham, I ended up leaving Washington to accept a superintendency in North Platte, Nebraska, on the recommendation of a friend. My friend happened to be a native Nebraskan who was involved in the search process of bringing a slate of candidates to interview for the superintendent’s position in North Platte. He invited me into the process based on his knowledge of my professional history in Washington. As an outsider, my chances seemed slim. But I was excited about taking on a challenge that was way outside of my comfort zone. The North Platte School Board took a chance on me, and we proceeded to do some very exciting work together there.
That experience stretched me in innumerable ways personally and professionally. I had the chance to “learn” a whole new state’s way of educating young people in its public schools while exploring a part of the United States I knew little to nothing about. I came to deeply appreciate the people and the place called the Sandhills. After that experience, I spent a year on the East Coast working in the private sector before migrating back home to the Pacific Northwest, where I’ve been greatly enjoying my leadership role with the Port Townsend School District.
How did you develop an interest in educational technology? Or how do you think a knowledge of instructional technology can help teachers and other educators?
I’ve been working with computers and digital technologies now for nearly 40 years. My master’s degree (25 years back!) was focused on the emerging role of digital technology in educational systems. I’ve been fascinated with the possibilities these powerful tools represent for learning. It has been a significant leadership challenge to integrate these tools in a way that both transforms how we organize learning and expands how we think about what is possible for schools in this information-saturated era. So many possibilities for richer learning experiences and so many possibilities for empty, phatic distraction now exist. We live in an age where we must invoke our wisdom, inventiveness, and humanity in order to find a trustworthy signal in all of the noise. I remain hopeful about the possibilities represented by this technological shift around us.
Can you tell us about Project Inkwell and your involvement with it?
Project Inkwell represents the coming together of competing technology industry leaders, educators, inventors, and academics to accelerate the development and deployment of school-appropriate technologies. The early work of this project was focused on developing functional standards for portable wireless devices that would be robust enough for general student use within a functioning school network environment. Then Project Inkwell actually went about the work of developing a prototype of a model device. That work led to the evolution of devices we’re all familiar with now — portable, carry-along wireless devices with incredible computing power — that work well in tandem with school network technology. Project Inkwell’s latest success has been accelerating the build-out of broadband capacity to schools as represented most recently in Obama’s initiative called ConnectEd. It also provided guidance around how to effectively institute 1:1 projects (one device to each student in a school or classroom setting) within school districts. Project Inkwell continues to bring advanced thinking to the challenge of transforming educational systems so that true personalized learning becomes a reality.