No excuses! How a rural district in Mississippi increased bandwidth, devices, and technology.

When the time came to equip a rural Mississippi school district with new technology so students could thrive in a 21st century learning environment, leaders said there would be “no excuses” despite the various challenges.

Increased bandwidth, new devices, and technology classes were a priority of Neshoba County School District’s new superintendent of education who had the full support of the school board from day one.

The school district was “technology poor” when Dr. Lundy Brantley took the helm but now, 18 months later, there are 2,103 new devices along with robotics, engineering, and computer science classes among others.

“Our access was very limited as far as personal devices when I was hired,” Dr. Brantley said. 

Technology improvements were at the top of his list of priorities when he initially interviewed with the school board.

“They were with me from day one,” he said of the board. “I knew after an early assessment that there was a lack of access to technology and our internet was very slow. We looked at our needs. It was simple. Accessing our federal programs dollars was the quickest and easiest way to fund the new technology. We really just pared down a lot of things we had been buying and we channeled that money to technology.”

The technology upgrade included the addition of 1,885 Chromebooks, 180 of which were purchased by the Parent-Teacher Organization last summer.

Also added were cloud-based security cameras among other technology.

Brantley, his technology director and team of administrators put their technology plan together fairly quickly and have made huge strides over the past year.

Students are utilizing the new technology in each grade and are able to work independently in many areas.

“We don’t have to slow down because of a slow internet any longer,” Brantley said. “We are now tech heavy for a rural school district. There were ‘no excuses’ when we started this upgrade. We looked at our priorities, what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go and then we made it happen.”

Sixty-eight new carts with electrical access were purchased to charge and store the new Chromebooks.

Instead of Windows 10 or macOS, Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS. These laptops are designed to be used primarily while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents stored in the cloud. 

Neshoba Central kindergarten through second grade rooms now have one Chromebook for every two students. Each student in grades three through five has a Chromebook. In the middle school, there is one Chromebook for every 1.5 students. The high school has one Chromebook for every two students.

Chomebooks allow students and teachers to utilize the iReady personalized learning program, Dr. Brantley said.

“It helps us fill in the gaps,” he said. “It’s important to have all of this for our kids who will forever be working with technology.”

He stressed the importance of computer technology and robotic science and noted that students in the future would either have to invent, operate or work on robots while many will do coding.

“It is exciting to be able to see kids use these Chromebooks for purposeful lessons,” Dr. Brantley said. “We now have eight year olds sharing documents on their Chromebooks. It is crucial that our kids have this type of access. Computers are not the teachers. They are a supplement. They assist in instruction and provide a wide range of opportunities for our students.”

The district-wide technology upgrade also included 41 new iPads, and 109 new laptops, desktops, 3D printers, drones, etc.

“We have replaced 13 servers,” Dr. Brantley said. “Our original bandwidth was 100 megabytes and we now have one gigabyte. We have updated all of our servers. We still have two old storage devices we can replace next year if the budget will allow it. These devices are used to back-up our data.”

The district has added 35 interactive panels and 24 new security cameras.

Dr. Brantley praised the work of Pam Bass, technology director for the district.

“Her knowledge is unmatched,” he said. “She outfitted the new high school and has been a huge part of our success. She is invaluable. She really loves what she does and is always on the front end of new technology.”

Bass called the new technology very impressive.

“On top of the Chromebooks, we also added a new Palo Alto fire wall, which is military grade,” she said. “We increased our circuit speed. We now have the bandwidth and speed to run those devices. As the district grows, we will continue to increase our technology.”

Bass said the new laptops for teachers were much needed.

“We purchased a lot of Promeathean panels and we are getting laptops for the teachers. We have made some great strides under Dr. Brantley.”

One thing Bass is proud of is the new cloud based camera system, which was installed last week.

There won’t be any old DVRs sitting around, she said.

“You can log in to the camera system on your phone. Dr. Brantley can be in New York and see the school on his phone if he needs to. The cameras are awesome.”