Tech leaders breathe new life into Missoula County Public Schools

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In the span of just a few years, Missoula County Public Schools have seen a massive upgrade.

The heavily rural district in Missoula, Montana, has completely revamped its technology infrastructure thanks to the leadership of Hatton Littman, director of technology and communications, and Russ Hendrickson, senior information systems manager.

Littman, who came on board about three years ago, said when she arrived, the tech team has “changed absolutely everything.”

“There’s nothing that hasn’t been touched that needed to be updated,” she said in an interview with EdScoop during the annual ISTE conference, a gathering of thousands of edtech specialists and leaders.

The district’s network was built for 3,000 users, when in reality, it has nearly 10,000 students, faculty and staff members. Littman and Hendrickson looked at the network against CoSN’s Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO, as well as recommendations from the State Educational Technology Directors Association and the White House’s ConnectED program, and realized that it was about 10 years behind.

“We realized we don’t have the services available to deliver a reliable and fast platform that you can actually do 21st century teaching,” said Littman.

“All our passwords were stored in three-ring binders behind someone’s desk,” Hendrickson added.

The team rolled out a five-year plan to get their technology and infrastructure up to speed — in two years, the district went from a 100-megabit internet connection to a 1-gigabit connection. When the schools had run out of IP addresses, the tech team revamped the IP structure for every device.

“We replaced every switch in the district and we built a wireless infrastructure,” Hendrickson said.

They installed about 100 access points per building. The district has a preschool, nine elementary schools, three middle schools, four high schools, an alternative high school and an adult learning center.

“We were in a situation before where we regularly had to tell librarians, classroom teachers, principals, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t do that cool idea,’ because we knew our network couldn’t serve up a reliable platform,” Littman said.

Now, teachers and librarians can decide on whichever apps or software or other programs they want to use in the classroom. Librarians are in the process of adding book titles in OverDrive, a digital reading platform, which students will then add to their devices. The district also uses Google Translate for English language learners, and in 2017 they will launch a Microsoft Office 365 program.

“Rather than lock down our network or restrict it to something very limited, we really are fans of exposing teachers and students to a variety of platforms,” Littman said. “We believe in providing a suite of tools to allow teachers and students to pick and choose in a meaningful and purposeful way.”

With a $1.6 million budget for technology each year, Missoula turns to the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program, which subsidizes broadband and wireless services for schools and libraries.

Littman brought 32 staff members to ISTE to see what the tech trends and landscape are like.

“We’re exposing educators from the state of Montana — which is rural and sometimes a couple years behind — to what everyone else is doing, and that’s a big deal,” she said. “Our educators are bright, but not always exposed to what’s on the cutting edge. So I’m getting a lot out of watching people grow.”

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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