Colleagues have tried to give chief technology officer Ellen Driscoll a way out. The Middleboro (Massachusetts) Public Schools CTO is known for taking on all sorts of projects that promote ed tech, even when she’s stretched to the limit.
“You know, you can say ‘no,’” one boss famously suggested. But Driscoll says “no” only to sitting on the sidelines.
Take, for example, the time when the Massachusetts House of Representatives had an IT bond bill under consideration. Driscoll jumped into action, organizing a campaign to support the bill that would allocate $38 million for ed tech. Acting as the chair of MassCue’s Influence and Advocacy Committee, she contacted Hilary Goldmann, ISTE’s senior director of government relations, to strategize how to support the bill and ensure it was passed and signed by the governor.
“A lot of jobs are funded by those grants,” she told a local newspaper. “So I realized how important it was to have the schools’ voice heard because technology is expensive. It’s just not possible for schools to build the infrastructure they need, get software, hardware, tech support and professional development on their own, and if you don’t have all of those elements, you’ll never have a good program.”
The digital connect grant did pass the state legislature in 2014, and Driscoll is now working to help launch the associated projects. It is, she says, her greatest coup.
“When I actually see the funds at work, the children working with the tech and very much engaged with what they’re learning, that gives me a sense of accomplishment,” Driscoll says.
“It’s ingrained,” she says. “I’ve always been passionate about underdogs and helping them. It’s what I do.”
Her three-page résumé reads like a how-to manual on getting involved in ed tech, including a host of efforts at Plymouth Public Schools and Barnstable Public Schools where she previously worked. In her spare time, she serves as an associate professor at Endicott College, focusing on classroom strategies and technology that improves student learning.
While the urge for advocacy may be strong, the hours are few. She makes the sacrifices anyway.
“I’ve been politically active my whole life and so was my mother,” she says. It’s no surprise then that Driscoll ran for a school committee and was elected at the age of 28. Since that time, she’s volunteered as an ed tech advocacy representative for ISTE, is a founding member of the Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrator Association and is a longtime member of the South Coast Integration Technology Team.
In the big picture, she’s served as MassCUE’s secretary for four terms and sits on various sub-committees. In fact, it was Driscoll who recommended that MassCUE create an Influence and Advocacy Committee several years ago.
But creating a committee and sustaining it are two different things. Driscoll worked hard to keep the committee from folding when membership dwindled, said Wendy Haskell, MassCUE president.
“Ellen jumped into action, volunteering to chair again and soliciting members,” Haskell says.
It’s a common refrain.
“Ellen is a motivated and hard worker, someone who cares deeply about what she does,” said former Middleboro superintendent Roseli Weiss. “I am impressed by her knowledge, her energy and her willingness to support others.”
“You really do make a difference, and there is some comfort in numbers and knowing others believe in the same thing,” she says. “As educators, we want our kids to be self-directed and lifelong learners, and we have to give them the tools to do that. So if you believe in technology, you do what you have to do and rally the support of those around you.”
In other words, with Driscoll, it’s all about saying “no” to letting anything derail your purpose.