ECISD chief technology officer continues her quest for learning - Odessa American: ECISD

ECISD chief technology officer continues her quest for learning

By Ruth Campbell | Posted: Friday, October 4, 2019 4:15 pm

Ector County ISD’s Chief Technology Officer Kellie Wilks is learning how the sausage is made — in the figurative sense.

Wilks is part of the first cohort, or class, of the Texas Education Policy Fellowship Program through Texas Tech University. She earned a history degree from the University of Texas Permian Basin, a master’s in educational technology from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and a doctorate in educational leadership from Tech.

The degree from Pepperdine was a hybrid so it was partly in person and partly online.

The Education Policy Fellowship Program is a 10-month professional development program for emerging and mid-level leaders in education and education related fields to “both educate and empower them in their work for sound education policy and practice in the state of Texas,” the website said.

“We’ve heard from Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller. Mike Morath, (state) commissioner of education, some nonprofits. Raise Your Hand Texas spoke to us, so it’s really learning the areas of interest when it comes to education policy,” Wilks said.

Those in the cohort meet with the professors, learn more about policy, talk about things that are high profile and then pick a policy project.

“We’ll follow that topic through the remainder of the fellowship, and then at the end, report on what we’ve learned on the policy that we’ve picked that we want to keep an eye on,” Wilks said. “I’m leaning toward teacher certification and teacher shortages; leadership shortages. Does policy affect why teachers get in the profession or don’t get in the profession?”

On the principal and administrator end, she also wants to consider what avenues people come into those fields from and what certifications or requirements the state has for those positions.

There are three pillars of policy in the fellowship — policy, leadership and networking.

“My interest was from a district standpoint was how do those policies go into effect and then what is our role as a district to follow the policy and laws. It’s really a learning opportunity for me. We’re compliance driven. We definitely follow policies that are put down, but why are they in place?” Wilks said.  

Laws are passed, rules are made and the rules are passed down to the districts.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect,” Wilks said. “That’s something that I learned was the intent of the law is sometimes not necessarily written out as … the policy makers intended, so they have to go back and review rules. That was really interesting to find out. There’s this whole vetting process. Here’s the law; here’s the rules; here’s how it affects the district. Sometimes they don’t realize how it affects the districts until the laws and the rules are put in place, so they have to revisit it,” she added.

Wilks said she hears a lot of policy and wanted to learn more about it “instead of using it as an excuse.”

She found out about the fellowship through an alumni email from Texas Tech and wanted to see what it was about.

A Midland native, Wilks went to school in Odessa from kindergarten through ninth grade.

“That was in the ’80s when the oil bust happened. My dad couldn’t find work, so we moved to Kansas and lived with his mother — my grandmother. Then he found work in Kansas, so I actually graduated high school in Dodge City, Kan.,” she said.

She went to a year of college at Dodge City Community College and then joined the Army National Guard. She joined the military to pay for college and served for eight years.

With her military training, Wilks said she worked as an inventory clerk for a hospital for a while. When she applied for a promotion, her boss told her she should go back to school full time, “quit working these odd jobs. Go get a career.”

“So with his nudge, I decided to move back to Texas and go to school full time,” Wilks said.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at UTPB, Wilks taught fifth and sixth grade at Pease Communications and Technology Academy for four years. That’s how she got into technology.

Wilks has been with ECISD for 14 years. Her division has 60 people and Wilks said she has a lot of help with her job.

Recently, she also became a staff developer for AVID, the college preparation program.

“I love working with teachers so AVID actually added some digital teaching and learning strands to their summer institutes. They were looking for people who had knowledge. My dissertation is in digital teaching learning, so I reached out to them for some information and they reached back out and asked if she wanted to be a staff developer,” Wilks said.

“It was actually really good training. They developed the courses. I helped vet them, so I didn’t actually build any of the content but I gave them feedback. I taught two strands last summer. We’re going to try to deliver them to our principals and leaders in ECISD in late October,” she added.

Wilks also is involved in the AVID Leadership Coaching program at the middle schools. She was at Bonham Middle School last year and will be at Crockett this year.

Although she wasn’t someone who liked school when she was younger, she later decided to go further.

Digging deeper into policy, Wilks said will help her explain to colleagues why things are the way they are.

“… We’re always updating our policy and having an understanding of that background is helpful — where it comes from and what leniencies you have; how much gray area is there; and what you have to do to comply vs. what’s best for kids,” Wilks said.

She added that she thinks the state’s intent is always to do what’s best for students. 

“… Everyone starts out with the best intention; the lawmaking process is what kind of looks like it’s a little messy, but we do what’s best for kids in ECISD,” Wilks said.

Renee Jones, director of instructional technology for the district, works with Wilks.

“It is evident that she has a desire to grow personally and professionally. After completing her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Texas Tech, she was looking for something else to fill her time. Dr. Wilks took on the role of an AVID staff developer with the Digital Teaching and Learning Advancing Leadership strand requiring her to present at AVID Summer Institutes. Success follows her because she is highly motivated and continues to find ways to increase her knowledge by seeking ways to increase her knowledge and help others. ECISD is fortunate to have Dr. Wilks on our team!” Jones said in an email.