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Hacienda La Puente Director of Network and Computer Services Thomas Tan, right, worked to close the digital divide for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the crisis has made schools become better at problem solving and at being “experts in human learning.”
Tan closed the digital divide during COVID
May 31, 2021
Name: Thomas Tan Award: Technology Administrator of the Year Title: Director of Network and Computer Services, Hacienda La Puente USD ACSA highlights: member since 1992; Urban Education Committee, 2010-11; presented at events; contributed articles to Leadership magazine and EdCal.
Thomas Tan started his career in data processing at the Ontario-Montclair School District in 1992 and has worked in information technology and network services for 29 years. A lot has changed in technology during that time. In four positions at two districts, Tan has embraced both the challenges and achievements of the last three decades of technological advancement.
Since 2011, Tan has served as the director of Network and Computer Services for Hacienda La Puente USD, the largest district in the San Gabriel Valley, serving 22,000-plus students at more than 30 school sites and centers.
His wholehearted dedication to solutions-based improvement and innovation spans from being the district webmaster and social media manager, to implementing a districtwide learning management system and mass communications platform for parents and schools, both launched in summer of 2020. After feedback from teachers struggling to teach remotely, his team installed a single sign-on for instructional programs on more than 10,000 student laptops, allowing for one-step access to classroom tools.
The COVID-19 closures required immediate tech solutions, including the speedy deployment of student laptops and 3,500 internet hotspots. Tan led the effort to close the digital divide, ensuring technicians were trained in support and preparing step-by-step instructions for teachers and parents. His leadership has resulted in a department that prioritizes customer service, legal compliance and immediate and effective solutions to any problems that arise.
“Thomas in consistently looking for ways to uplift others and make the district shine,” Helene Cunningham, HLPUSD’s director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, said in a letter. “Whether it be in Superintendent’s Cabinet, working on joint projects with my Technology TOSAs, device deployment for students during the pandemic, or updating the District Technology Plan, one can see his inclusive leadership style and people skills.”
What’s your favorite book or quote on leadership? For a book, it’d be “The Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a fictional account of against-all-odds leadership at the Spartan Battle of Thermopylae. A plaque hangs in my office of my favorite quotes from my Ed.D. leadership professor at USC, Dr. Stu Gothold, “Grow People” and “Everything We Say And Everything We Do Speaks Volumes About Who We Are And What We Believe.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Two memorable pieces of advice:
1) Listen. It’s such a go-go world, but it would help to take more time to listen. We are connected, but superficially. Tweets and texts don’t count … investing time in building relationships is what we need more of. It goes a long way to stop and take the time to hear and listen. When people are upset, let the tape run … sometimes people just want to be heard. Then you can work the issue together.
2) Hire the best people you can then get out of their way and let them work. Support them … periodic morning bagels and pizza team gatherings go a long way.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Know what will kill you and what will not. Don’t let stress do you in. Make and plan time for both work and life, family.
Enjoy today to the fullest. Because there’s no guarantee you’ll be around tomorrow. Every day is a gift.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Start every day knowing your “Why.” Why did you choose to work in education? What makes you tick? What stokes that fire in your belly? Not every day will be a good day, but every day has something good in it. Knowing your “Why” will carry you through the tough times and keep you focused to press forward. There is a greater good we are working for in education.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have a background in Quantitative Economics. I have mastered how to make lasagna from scratch.
What made you want to become a school administrator? My dad spent 25 years as a community college administrator. I think some of that rubbed off around the “college of the dinner table.” He shared stories about how educators were some of the finest and most giving people in the world. As I started working in school districts, you can’t help but to learn to love the mission of what K-12 is doing: to grow people, to shape futures, to prepare college- and career-ready graduates. Working for the greater good. We do our jobs right and well, hundreds of people will benefit. The work took on more meaning once I had my own kids and appreciated schools even more.
What is your proudest accomplishment? Professionally, in the early years of the internet coming to education, building the first school networks was a lot of fun. The most fun accomplishments now are discoveries on using technology in education, from assessment data systems to distance learning.

The value is not in having the technology, we have plenty of that now. Unlocking the potential is learning to use the technology well, SAMR model stuff. It’s blue sky with no limit to where we can go.
Personally, being dad daily to my three kids is something I’m proud of, although I’m still a dad in training. And husband in training if you ask my other half.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? People that work in education have self-selected to be there and by nature are wired to be people-people. This is true even if they work instruction, business or human resource parts of the district. ACSA amplifies that power of relationships and connections by bringing like-minded education professionals from all over California together. With 1,000-plus school districts in California, ACSA membership is a must-have in your professional toolkit. As a member of ACSA, it takes just a few phone calls or clicks on your computer to find people who can get you the best and latest information on K-12 issues. Teaching at the ACSA Business Academy has given me a pipeline to connect, learn and borrow ideas from people from other districts.
What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you/how has it inspired you as an educator? The COVID crisis has helped us to become more focused on being “Experts in Human Learning.” The COVID crisis threw school districts a curve ball last March 2020. But I think we’ve hit at least a triple or home run when we look back. We rebuilt a system of distance learning in a short timeline with the resources available.
The COVID crisis has been a crucible of learning how to work together better. It was inspiring to sit in a room with instructional and business divisions and school administrators and find solutions. How are we going to feed the students? How are we going to keep our staff safe? What do we need to do to make schools safe? What will teaching and learning look like? What support is needed by students, parents and teachers? How do we deploy and support thousands of student laptops and hotspots?
In the past year, our district and our profession has adapted to press onward to provide the best education we could. As we put this episode of COVID behind us, I believe we all work together much more closely now than before. The comeback is always so much sweeter than the setback. Looking forward to the future beyond this COVID episode … onward.
2021 Technology Administrator of the Year Thomas Tan.
2021 Technology Administrator of the Year Thomas Tan.
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