District technology director wins state award

Susan Heidt has been in charge of the Monticello school district’s technology systems and offerings since 1998, pushing the district forward to give students the technological know-how to compete after high school.
This year she was honored for her dedication as the winner of the 2012 TIES Minnesota Technology Leader award.
Heidt was no stranger to school technology when she joined the Monticello district, having worked in the field in the Orono district five years previously, when even the term “technology” meant a lot of different things than we think of today, thanks to a rapidly evolving landscape of technological opportunities.
“I had a passion for using technology in my classroom as a teacher,” she said, which was the position she held before shifting her focus to technology. “As much as I could get my hands on and anything that came out, I would use it in my classroom.”
She was offered the job of technology director in Orono because of this passion, but she initially turned the offer down because she explained that, while she enjoyed technology, she liked working with people more. Then her superintendent told her what she initially thought was a sales pitch for the job, but later found it to be wise words: “technology leadership is really more about people than it is about hardware.”
Since then Heidt has been working with all levels of staff, helping them use technology in their classrooms or job functions more efficiently and effectively.
“Technology and innovation will always be new, they will always be a little bit threatening and scary,” she said, “but it will always really be more about people than about hardware.”
Today’s students in Monticello are using technology to complete everyday functions; she said the use of technology has gone far above and beyond computer labs, seeping into all aspects of the school day.
“Technology is now critical to the daily operations to learn, work, collaborate, think, compete and to succeed,” she said. “My belief is that increased access [to technology] is increased student achievement, and that ties right to our district’s mission and goals.”
Heidt’s co-workers nominated her for the TIES Award in the fall (TIES is the web system Monticello and 46 other school districts use for everything from grades, student attendance records, lunch accounts and more). The Technology Leader award was to go to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in implementing technology to improve E-12 education.
“In and of itself, to be nominated by your own district is very humbling,” Heidt said. “It’s one thing to receive an award, but to be nominated by people who you work with all the time is truly the greatest honor.”
Finding out she had won the award was an exciting surprise, with Heidt saying the pool of candidates was ‘such a distinguished group.’ She was formally recognized for this achievement at a four-day technology conference earlier this month, to which she received free admission. The conference covered the gamut of technological gadgetry and the latest tools available to help students.
A sampling of the subjects attendees could delve into include: game-based learning, iPad applications for students who struggle in math or reading, 21st century presentation tools and cyber bullying training in a digital citizenship seminar.
“Susan Heidt is a truly transformational leader. Her efforts to use technology to enhance learning serve to expand the success of students and those who teach them,” said Betty Schweizer, TIES Executive Director.
Little Mountain Elementary principal Joe Dockendorf has worked with Heidt for years, and said she is very deserving of the award.
“Anytime we need anything we give her a call, and she is so helpful and so intelligent. She’s so good at what she does,” he said.
Dockendorf said in the past few years their school has moved from having computers for teachers and a couple computer labs to having state-of-the-art, 21st century classroom options, with mounted projection systems, a sound field and Smart Board technology.
“That’s just the purchasing end of it, but it really starts with her leadership in deciding what priorities are,” he said. “She does a nice job and she is so pleasant to work with.”
Heidt herself, of course, is much more modest about her work in the district.
“I truly feel like it’s not just me alone … when you get an award it’s always the result of a really strong team and teamwork,” she said.