Features

Joshua Walton – Lower Yukon School District 

Empowering students and educators 

To address the challenges faced by a school district in a remote part of Alaska, Director of Technology Joshua Walton relies on years of experience and a passion for improving the educational opportunities for students.  

The Lower Yukon School District faces challenges, including limited infrastructure, high costs, and limited access to technical support and professional development, as it tries to educate 2,000 students in a thriving community situated along the lower stretches of the Yukon River.  

Joshua Walton | Director, Technology | Lower Yukon School District 

Joshua Walton | Director, Technology | Lower Yukon School District

Walton’s role encompasses various vital responsibilities, ensuring the smooth operation and continual advancement of the district’s technological infrastructure. Walton serves as a driving force behind the integration of innovative technologies that foster a culture of lifelong learning and academic excellence. 

Overseeing the strategic planning, implementation, and maintenance of all technological initiatives within LYSD, Walton also manages network systems and infrastructure, oversees cybersecurity protocols and plays a crucial role in shaping the district’s technological landscape. 

Under Walton’s guidance, LYSD has undergone significant transformations. Walton spearheaded groundbreaking projects aimed at enhancing learning opportunities for students and educators. Walton’s vision for technological innovation has revolutionized how education is delivered in the district. 

“My role extends beyond the technical realm, encompassing budget management, vendor relations, and staff training,” Walton says. “I collaborate closely with school administrators, teachers and support staff to ensure that technological resources are effectively utilized to support the district’s educational objectives.” 

In addition to his operational duties, Walton is a key advocate for digital equity and access within LYSD. He works tirelessly to bridge the digital divide by implementing initiatives that provide underserved communities with access to high-speed internet and digital resources. 

Leading technological advancements 

One such initiative spearheaded by Walton is the development of the district’s LEO-GEO Infrastructure solution. In response to the challenges posed by distance learning during the pandemic, Walton secured a substantial grant of $15 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund. This funding enabled LYSD to establish a robust internet infrastructure, ensuring reliable connectivity for students in remote areas.  

Collaborating with Alaska Communications, Walton oversaw the installation of antennas on approximately 500 households, providing previously underserved communities with access to high-speed internet. This transformative project has expanded remote learning opportunities, empowering students to access various educational resources. 

Joshua Walton | Director, Technology | Lower Yukon School District 

Looking ahead, LYSD is poised to transform its internet infrastructure significantly. Walton’s foresight has led the district to transition from GCI to Starlink, promising a tenfold increase in bandwidth and substantial cost savings. This switch will address previous challenges stemming from limited bandwidth and facilitate the integration of cutting-edge network management solutions. Through strategic partnerships and prudent budget allocation, Walton ensures that LYSD remains at the forefront of technological innovation in education. 

Over the course of eight days, RAD WIFI was on-site to overhaul the district’s entire network infrastructure from a mix of legacy equipment to unified Cisco Meraki. Included was a single dashboard to save countless hours of IT troubleshooting and improve student success. The deployment consisted of new Wi-Fi access points, network switches and router/firewalls with content filtering. RAD WIFI led the migration to the satellite internet provider at the same time of the network overhaul.  

Despite facing challenges such as a ransomware attack in 2023, Walton’s proactive approach to cybersecurity has strengthened the district’s resilience against potential threats. By implementing robust security measures and providing ongoing staff training, Walton is safeguarding LYSD’s digital infrastructure and ensuring the integrity of student data. 

“Empowering students with access to knowledge through innovative solutions drives our mission at LYSD. Together, we’re bridging the digital gap and paving the way for a brighter future,” Walton says. 

Navigating recruitment challenges 

Walton oversees a dedicated team that maintains and advances the district’s technological infrastructure. Despite the unique challenges posed by LYSD’s remote location along the lower Yukon River, Walton and his team have implemented innovative solutions to support the educational needs of approximately 2,000 students across 12 schools. 

Walton’s team consists of three members, including himself, and two technology coordinators specializing in hardware and software support. While the team may be small, their impact is significant. However, recruiting and retaining qualified staff in the remote Alaskan setting presents a challenge. The district’s 10 villages, inaccessible by road and relying solely on air travel, can deter potential candidates seeking more traditional work environments. 

Joshua Walton | Director, Technology | Lower Yukon School District 

In LYSD, technology is essential for creating successful learning experiences, especially given the district’s remote nature. Students and staff expect reliable, accessible devices to facilitate seamless learning activity participation. Technology should be intuitive, user-friendly, and personalized, catering to individual needs and fostering engagement. 

“To meet these expectations, we actively seek grant opportunities,” Walton says. “Through strategic use of Title 1 funding, the district equipped nearly every student with a new Chromebook, providing reliable devices and personalized learning opportunities. By prioritizing the specific needs of its student body, predominantly Yup’ik Alaskan Native, LYSD strives to empower an effective learning environment for all.” 

Working in a remote district like Lower Yukon presents unique challenges, from providing timely support in remote locations to navigating harsh Alaskan weather conditions. However, Walton finds satisfaction in working alongside dedicated staff and inspiring students. Being part of the solution that unlocks innovative learning experiences through technology is incredibly rewarding. Despite the challenges, Walton remains committed to empowering students and contributing to the success of LYSD. 

Embracing education and technology 

Walton’s path is marked by a passion for technology that ignited in his formative years. Fascinated by its transformative impact across various facets of society, Walton pursued a degree in software development from Georgia Gwinnett College. 

His career journey started with roles at AT&T and Crystal Solutions, where he gained valuable experience in telecommunications and project management. This early exposure broadened his understanding of technology’s applications, setting the stage for future endeavors. 

Transitioning to the non-profit sector, Walton served as a database administrator for 12Stone Church, honing his IT management skills. During this time, he developed an interest in the intersection of technology and education, laying the groundwork for his transition to public education. 

In July 2020, Walton seized the opportunity to merge his passion for technology with the world of education by joining the Lower Yukon School District. Drawn into a unique role that combined teaching and technology responsibilities, Walton saw it as an exciting adventure for himself and his family. 

Balancing his career with family life, Walton finds solace in spending time with his wife, Phoebe, the district’s director of special services, and children. He cherishes the Alaskan adventure and moments back home in Atlanta. His interests, including fishing, reading, and occasional video game nights, give him a sense of fulfillment outside work. 

Above all, Walton’s faith in Jesus Christ is a guiding force, grounding him in gratitude and grace as he navigates life’s challenges and blessings.  

“Beyond delivering education, Lower Yukon builds a brighter future, one connection at a time. Our passion is empowering students and educators to achieve their full potential in our remote environment. By collaborating and innovating, we can close the digital divide and ensure equitable access to learning for everyone, everywhere,” Walton says.  

Published on: June 21, 2024

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