When a school district is so small that it only has 350 students, it takes a resourceful superintendent to get things done. With so few students, per-pupil funding isn’t much, and the operating budget is small.

Despite limited capital, the superintendent of a small rural school district in Texas put a high-speed internet drop in every classroom and made its administrative processes paperless. His trick? He did it himself.

“I don’t mind getting my hands dirty; I know most superintendents don’t have time to pull cable,” said Randy Moczygemba, superintendent of the Medina Independent School District.

When Moczygemba became superintendent in Medina six years ago, the district had one networked computer lab, dial-up access to the internet in the school library, and most teachers didn’t have computers.

Armed with a limited budget but lots of know-how, Moczygemba recruited the district’s two principals, the custodian, and the technology director for help. Together, they pulled Category 5, fiber optic, and Ethernet cables through the ceiling tiles and walls, terminated the fiber and cables, and configured the network.

Installing infrastructure is a one-time challenge, and if it’s done right the benefits will last for years, Moczygemba said. Plus, he and his staff know the network intimately in case something goes wrong. They even have a fiber-optic scope for maintenance. “Most school districts don’t mess with their own fiber, especially a small district like us,” he said.

Moczygemba learned how to wire a school building while working as an assistant superintendent at Lamesa Independent School District in Texas.

Lamesa, which had 3,500 students, had gotten a quote for $7.5 million to wire every building and provide 75 laptops for the district’s teachers. Instead, Moczygemba agreed to hire a local computer contractor to wire one high school in exchange for teaching him how to pull and terminate cable and configure a network.

To wire the rest of the school district, Moczygemba hired and trained students to do the work over the summer and after school until the district had T-1 internet drops in every classroom.

Through sheer determination and by working overtime, Moczygemba and his staff were able to wire Lamesa’s schools for approximately $150,000 by doing the majority of the work themselves.

Going paperless

With Medina’s network in place, Moczygemba introduced a paperless environment among the district’s staff.

Using Adobe Acrobat, a relatively inexpensive solution, he programmed and converted the district’s administrative forms to Adobe’s form document format (FDF)–which is different from the popular portable document format (PDF).

With FDF, users can fill out a form using their computer, then transmit the form to its destination. The receiver cannot change the answers but can export the entries into a database that has the same fields as the form. Once the data are in a database, they can be exported to a variety of applications, such as populating a student information system or a web site.

Using FDF forms has saved Medina printing costs as well as staff time in filling out and processing forms.

Before, for example, the district’s Field Trip Transportation Report was printed on five-layer carbon copy paper. A teacher would fill out the form, tear off his or her copy, and then drop the form into the principal’s mail slot. From there, the form was passed on to the school superintendent and then the transportation department. Along the way, each person signed the form and kept a copy. The whole process could take a few days, and the forms were costly.

Now, in the same situation, a teacher uses a computer to open the Field Trip Transportation Report form. He or she fills it out, saves it, and eMails it to the principal. The principal receives it by eMail, adds his or her digital signature, and eMails it to the superintendent. Moczygemba assigns a bus to the trip and uploads the information to a database, which automatically populates a web site that both the teacher and transportation department can check. School employees are asked to check their eMail at the beginning and end of each day, so the forms get processed in a timely manner. Other forms that have been automated include maintenance requests, tech-support requests, staff development requests, purchase requisitions, purchase orders, and teacher and staff evaluations.

If the fields are consistent, data from one form can populate another form automatically. Moczygemba said this is particularly useful for purchase requisitions and purchase orders. The only difference between the two forms is that a purchase order has an order number and signature. The time saved is invaluable, because in this small school district the business office consists of three people: the superintendent, a business manager, and a secretary.

Moczygemba also created a form for teachers’ lesson plans. Before, teachers had to fill out a two-layer carbon copy form for each lesson. Instead of rewriting lesson plans from year to year, teachers now can open an FDF file, tweak it for the new year, and resubmit it.

Just the expense of buying each teacher a copy of Adobe Acrobat was quickly recovered, because lesson-plan books cost $18 or $19 each. Each teacher and staff member got a full version of Adobe Acrobat 5.0 for their computer for $28 per copy. The district since has upgraded to Acrobat 7.0, which cost $36 a copy.

Initially, it requires someone on staff to create the forms and align the fields in the forms to the district’s databases. Again, drawing on previous experience, Moczygemba was able to do this programming himself.

Moczygemba got his start with technology in 1981 by taking computer science as an elective in college. “I took the class and absolutely loved it,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I found an application for algebra.”

From 1980 to 1982 he attended West Texas State University, and from 1982 to 1987 he attended Texas Tech University. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in agriculture education and a master’s degree in education.

To augment his scholarship, Moczygemba worked part-time at various jobs, such as writing inventory control software for the motorcycle industry. He also bought used PC systems, cleaned them up, and resold them.

In addition, he wrote a computer program for agriculture students called the Future Farmers of America Record Book. It was bookkeeping software that students used to keep records of livestock, seed, or materials purchased for projects and to record income. “It spurred my love of computers, and I could see the benefit of students using computers in the classroom,” Moczygemba said.

Classroom technologies

Before Moczygemba came to Medina, the district had two computer labs, and most teachers didn’t have computers. Now, the district has two wireless mobile carts, one hard-wired lab, and computers in each classroom and the libraries. There are nearly 300 computers for 350 kids.

With its technology infrastructure now in place, the district has been focusing on adding classroom technologies.

Each classroom has a digital projector, a DVD/VCR combo unit, and a 92-inch screen, so teachers can project content from their computer or from the video player. Moczygemba said he has given teachers two years to convert all of their overhead projector transparencies to Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. The teachers each received PowerPoint training, and he hopes the challenge will encourage teachers to use the projectors.

Elementary-level teachers have Intel microscopes that connect to computers. The classrooms for grades five through 12 have pistol-grip microscopes, called Scopes on a Rope, that plug into a computer or projector.

Next, teachers will be getting wireless graphics tablets, so they can control their computer and what is projected on the screen from anywhere in the classroom. Teachers also will be able to make lessons more interactive by giving the tablets to students and asking them to solve a math problem, or draw the Oregon Trail on a map of the United States, for the whole class to see.

Instead of buying a “canned curriculum,” Medina focuses on locally developed curriculum. There are tremendous curriculum tools on the market, but their cost is beyond Medina’s budget, Moczygemba said.

“We have to take our own employees and teachers and empower them,” he said. “If we can do it in a small district, you can do it in any size district.”

Link:

Medina Independent School District
http://www.medinaisd.org