ECISD chief technology officer credits team for success

Kellie Wilks

Although she’d rather not be in the spotlight, Ector County ISD’s chief technology officer Kellie Wilks is there. She was recently named the 2024 Withrow National Chief Technology Officer of the Year Award by CoSN.

The CoSN Withrow CTO Award recognizes an exceptional district CTO who serves as a true technology champion and whose leadership has been transformative for their school system.

The award honors Frank Withrow, a pioneer and champion of K-12 education technology, a news release said.

CoSN, a consortium of school networks, is the national organization for school technology organizations. The Texas Educational Technology Leaders feeds up to the national organization, CoSN.

Wilks was recognized at the national conference in Miami and it was the first time she had attended.

They gave Wilks a head’s up that she was in the running for the national award.

She got the state award in the fall and when you win that you’re automatically entered for the national recognition.

“I opened my email after we had been gone for a long weekend in February and I got an email from the president of this CoSN organization. It said congratulations, you won the Withrow Technology Award,” Wilks said.

She didn’t realize the state award nomination went to the national level. So she thought her name hadn’t been put in for the national award. Wilks saw the nominator was the head of the Texas Educational Technology Leaders.

“So it clicked … I really didn’t even know I was nominated until I got the award notification,” Wilks said.

Ector County ISD’s Kellie Wilks, center, was recently awarded the 2024 Withrow National Chief Technology Officer of the Year by CoSN, a premier association of K-12 education technology leaders. (Courtesy Photo)

Wilks said the award is a reflection of all the work that’s been done in ECISD.

“I lead the work, but I definitely don’t do all the work. It’s good to be recognized amongst your peers that they value the work that you’re doing in your district,” Wilks said.

She added that she figures it’s what everyone else does.

“But evidently it’s not. I definitely appreciate (Superintendent) Dr. (Scott) Muri and his push in the area of technology and educational technology. He’s definitely an advocate and supports all the work that’s been done here in the district,” Wilks said.

She added that she appreciates the forward thinking of people in her division because it helps them get things accomplished more easily.

The pace of change was prompted by the pandemic. The first thing they did was get devices to students that they could take home.

“There was a lot of funding available to school districts for connectivity. And so the first charge in 2020 was to get all of our students a device and then as we were acquiring these devices, we had to determine who had access to internet and who didn’t. As we did that, we realized that big areas of South Ector County and West Ector County didn’t have a lot of options. There are options, and good options, but at that point, we decided to partner with SpaceX and that’s how we got the donation to fund 130 families with internet and then the other thing we did was partner with Sparklight and Grande, which is now Astound,” Wilks said.

ECISD partnered with those companies to ensure families had discounted rates.

“There’s some smaller local internet service providers that had discounts with affordable connectivity (program), which is a federal internet subsidy … so you get $30 off your internet if you’re low income,” Wilks said.

She added that the subsidy is going away in May.

“A lot of the work that we did to connect families was funded federally because of COVID and so some of that money is going away, but they’re reestablishing new programs. …,” so they are in a waiting mode right now, Wilks said.

The state also established a broadband department. They rolled out one round of funding called BOOT, Bringing Online Opportunities to Texans. She said they are on the cusp of awarding some of that money.

The next round of funding will be announced sometime this summer.

As part of the bond issue, the district has updated technology in the classroom.

“We’re also going to upgrade our phone system. We’re going to upgrade our surveillance system. That mostly involves replacing old cameras with new cameras and then we’re upgrading our PA/bell systems. That’s public address … the speakers that you talk on into classrooms. Also so our PA/bell systems were installed either with the building if it was built after the 1970s, or it was installed in the ‘70s retro, so most of them are 50 years old or older,” Wilks said.

As a result, parts are hard to find.

“This has been on our radar for the last 10 years. We’ve been able to replace the innards, like kind of the computer mainframe, so to speak, to make them work. But what this project will do is replace the whole system — the speakers and the controllers. … Then we’ll replace wires as needed. If we can reuse wires, we will because those really don’t go bad because they’re in the ceiling. Some of them because of heat may go bad, but for the most part, it’s just a double-strand wire and they are reusable. We’ll save money as we can, but that’ll be really nice and they’ll be centrally controlled so that if we needed to put out a communication to every school, the police department or superintendent could do that,” Wilks said.

Wilks has been with ECISD for 20 years and the chief technology officer for 10. She has about 75 employees in her division.

She was a classroom teacher in the 1990s in Midland. She was a fifth-grade reading language arts, social studies teacher and taught four years as a production lab teacher, which she said was a technology specialist kind of role.

They made videos, had a radio station, printed a literary magazine and a newspaper every quarter.

“I just thoroughly enjoyed all that,” Wilks said.

Executive Director of Digital Learning Lauren Tavarez nominated Wilks for the Chief Technology Officer award.

“I think she deserves that recognition. Kellie has done a really awesome job leading us over the last I’ll say, I can speak to the last three or four years. I saw the opportunity and just felt like she had a lot of the qualifications that fit that award really well and so it was just another opportunity to celebrate the work that she had done. She does not seek out recognition in any way and so I think when people are doing a great job, it’s important to find ways to do that,” Tavarez said.

She added that she was really surprised and excited to find out Wilks had won the national award.

“I think so highly of what she does. You think about that and the other nominees in that category. That’s a tough award to win and so it was exciting that the work that … our team — because she’ll say we all contributed to the success. But she … does a great job coaching us and asking the right questions,” Tavarez said.

“She’s really good at seeing the big picture and then figuring out who on our team needs to lead which piece of that so that we have a lot of different things going on, but we’re able to get all that work done.”

Tavarez sees the benefit in Wilks getting nationally recognized as well.

“I like the opportunity for the district and the great things that we have going on systemwide to be recognized nationally like that,” she said.

Just being part of the day-to-day work and seeing the growth that’s been achieved and how far ECISD has come over the last three of four years has been rewarding.

“The work that we do in technology, none of it’s done in isolation, and so we have to work really closely with all divisions across the district. Technology often is working behind the scenes. We’re supporting what’s happening in our classrooms or in different departments, so I think it’s great for us to just get that attention on a national level, because I think it’s well deserved,” Tavarez said.

She added that they are just proud of Wilks.

“We appreciate her leadership and always pushing us to think about what’s next. We’re not ever done and so her expectations are high, but she also helps us to achieve the things that she asked us to do,” Tavarez said.