Technology director Austin Lawrence reflects on time at USD 329

In technology director Austin Lawrence’s nine years at USD329, he oversaw big changes in the technology, including internet improvements and the introduction of iPads.

Lawrence left the district in January for a similar position Hanover.

He had many roles at Wabaunsee. In addition to being IT director, Lawrence coached girls basketball for six years and football for one. He has also helped teachers to decide on curriculum to work with technology.

When Lawrence first arrived, the separate school buildings in the different towns each had their own internet service provider. Lawrence worked to consolidate the system, and now all the schools in the district get service from one tower with one internet provider. Lawrence also played a large role in better equipping the classrooms. The schools went from each having one mobile projector that was rolled from room to room to having projectors in almost every classroom. Each room is also equipped with an Apple TV, a device that makes student’s presentations and other classroom activities easier.

“Austin was a big help when it came to technology. I started around the same time he did and the progress we’ve made has really benefited the students,” journalism teacher Brendan Praeger said.

Originally the schools were all computer-lab-based. “My second year here, the goal was to get every school two computer labs,” Lawrence said. The junior high and middle school also got mobile labs with laptops. In 2014, the district transitioned to the current system of 1-1 technology by giving every student an iPad. “It was just as cost effective to either upgrade the computer labs or give every kid their own device,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also oversaw security for the district. There are now 75 cameras district wide compared to the original number of only 10, and all buses are equipped with cameras. The phone system was also modified so that instead of having to make a long distance call between school buildings, the phones are all on an extension. Another major change that Lawrence oversaw was the transition from server to cloud. All the student’s documents used to be stored on physical servers. Now, all documents are backed up to the “cloud” using Google.

Currently, the district is working on changing the internet service from the tower to fiber optics, which is a technology that uses glass or plastic threads to transmit data. Fiber internet is faster and less likely to go down in a power outage.

Lawrence’s new position is the District Technology Coordinator at USD 233. The district uses Chromebooks instead of iPads, and Lawrence is excited to learn about new technology. “For IT people that’s always exciting,” Lawrence said, “instead of doing the same thing over and over I get to mess with some new technology.” Lawrence said he looks forward to having the opportunity to write new district policy about technology.

While Lawrence has already started his new position, his wife Cindy, a teacher at Paxico Middle School, will remain until the end of the school year. The couple is also expecting a third child this spring.

Both Austin and Cindy are originally from Hanover, so moving back is significant to them. “We’re moving back home,” Lawrence said. There will be familiar faces at his new job. “I actually get to work with some of my old teachers that I went to high school with,” Lawrence said.

After spending so many years at Wabaunsee, Lawrence said he will miss some things when he leaves, like the small community and the nice facilities at the high school. “Coaching sports was always very enjoyable. I probably won’t have that opportunity up in Hanover,” Lawrence said.

— Eleanor Badeker, @ellybadeker

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