School districts are increasingly moving toward a 1-to-1 system in which each student receives a small laptop computer for coursework. The Mexico school district starting this school year will have this system in place for the high school.

The technology department, comprised of Director Dana Hunt and technicians Melissa Holman and Lori Kelsay, aid the district in all of its technology needs. This includes installing security cameras, electronic door locks, the phone system and, of course, computers. The district almost has 1-to-1 in all its buildings. A true 1-to-1 system is one where students are able to take a laptop back and forth to school and home. Other buildings in lower grade levels currently have shared computers stored in carts.

The three technology staff members were recognized recently as finalists at the MoTechTalk2019 conference’s Technology Excellence Award. While they ultimately did not win, they still were lauded for their work in what is often seen as a male-dominated field.

"You don't see a lot of tech awards recognize [school] tech departments, and we do a lot of work behind the scenes that a lot of people don't realize," Hunt said. "It was a conference anyone in the state and other states could come to. They had schools from Kansas, some colleges and anyone could be nominated for this award."

The group's summer preparations for the 2019-20 year began in March. Not only did they have to log and prepare around 500 Chromebooks for the high school's 1-to-1 program, they also had to move computers, have teaching devices known as Smart Boards lowered and other technology-related updates throughout buildings due to the elementary school reconfiguration. Microsoft is phasing out Windows 7 by Jan. 1, Hunt said, so the department also has worked to upgrade all district computers to Windows 10.

"We put new servers in this summer, too," she said. "New print server, new DNS server, DHCP server. All of that is behind the scenes to make all of this run. That was a big undertaking as well."

A DNS server is a type of database, while a DHCP server assigns an address to a computer so that it can know which computer needs information, such as when a student does a search.

"I like the variety and getting the chance to figure things out. It is something different all the time," Kelsay said.

While the group does not teach or hold courses from the department office housed at the Hart Career Center, they do have a couple student interns from the computer networking and maintenance class taught by Craig Knight during the second semester to help them. They are also being asked more and more to come into classrooms throughout the district to give talks on technology and best practices with technology.

"As technology is getting more prominent, I think it's going to become one of those things where they will have us come and speak to the classes and students here,” Hunt said. “The elementary schools have talked about having us come in and talk about the importance of taking care of [technology].”

The department also holds professional development courses for district faculty in the run-up to the school year.

"Our impact is in the school and we let the teachers know that we're here to support them in any need that they have because they are what impacts our students," Holman said.

The group also works to keep their office organized, which helps them work together efficiently and quickly. Issues teachers or other staff members may have are typically addressed within 24 hours.

"If something is down in a classroom, we try to get there immediately," Holman said. "We do ask, since there is just the three of us, we ask for a 24-hour turnaround time. I think we usually get things taken care of pretty quickly."

To be able to have the district move toward a 1-to-1 system for the district, the team also had to work on infrastructure updates. In the last year they put server boxes and switches in each district building along with backup battery power supplies and increasing internet bandwidth so district servers and virtual servers can support having more devices in student hands.

"A lot of districts pulled the trigger too early on their 1-to-1 and their network kind of crumbled from time to time, so my goal was to really prepare so this can be a success from the get-go. I think we're good. I think we're ready. There will be tweaking to do, but I feel like we're really good and ready for this," Hunt said.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com