Infrastructure refresh helps school district make more educated classroom decisions for the future
Diamond Lake School District 76 serves the residents of the greater Mundelein/Diamond Lake, Illinois area. Its two elementary schools and one middle school are home to nearly 1,100 students and roughly 150 teachers, administrators and staff.
Like many school districts, in recent years Diamond Lake School District 76 has become very focused on the future of technology in the classroom. But as their discussions progressed, the administration and School Board came to realize they had some heavy lifting to do before they could begin adopting some of the innovative 21st Century learning tools that had them excited.
“Our network infrastructure had been in place for several years,” says Colette Ford, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services and Human Resources at District 76. “The speeds were slow – we were running on a 10/100 Ethernet network – and nearly all the network access was wired. We had one or two drops in each classroom, which was enough for a teacher and maybe one student. That setup was not in keeping with what’s happening in education today.”
Expanding the old infrastructure to accommodate more computers would have meant adding more hubs and routers, along with more cabling. That would be no small task given that the newest of the District’s schools was built in 1976, well before the personal computing revolution. Not to mention that if the District expanded the network in that way, the amount of traffic created by adding more computers would cause an already overburdened pipeline to run even slower.
The bigger issue, though, was that many of the 21st Century learning innovations the administration and School Board had started to look at required wireless access. While each of the schools had some level of wireless available, it was very limited in range as well as performance. The District didn’t know yet which learning technologies they would ultimately adopt, but it became very apparent that before they made any decisions they needed to perform a major infrastructure upgrade. The question was how to do it in a way that was scalable, and flexible enough to leave their future options open.
For the answer the District turned to Single Path, a Cisco Premier Partner that had been acting as its IT department since early 2012. Single Path recommended replacing the old infrastrucure with a combination of roughly 30 Cisco Catalyst 3850 48 port Full Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches and Catalyst 2960S 48 port GigE POE switches. For the wireless upgrade, Single Path recommended installing a Cisco 5508 Series wireless controller along with approximately 100 Cisco 802.11n CAP with CleanAir Access Points. The entire infrastructure would then be managed with Cisco Prime NCS software.
The project was approved by the School Board in May of 2013, and work began over the summer. The entire upgrade was completed by the time teachers returned to their schools from their summer vacations in mid-August.
As a result of the infrastructure project, District 76 now has gigabit speed in all of its schools, which has greatly improved network performance. The teachers were the first to benefit from the upgrades.
“When they came back to school, every teacher was given a laptop computer,” says Ford. “They can use the laptops to access the Internet in the classroom through the wireless system, which makes it easier to present information from outside the four walls since they’re no longer bound to their desks. They can also take the laptops with them so they can develop lesson plans and other materials from home or another location rather than having to stay at the school. In addition, they can use their laptops to answer email from parents or enter information into our Powerteacher application when they’re not at the school – for example when they attend an offsite training class. The teachers are definitely giving these new capabilities high marks.”
One of the concerns with planning the wireless system was the realization that no matter how carefully they tested, there was a possibility that there would still be a few dead zones. Ford says Single Path responded quickly to any issues, adding access points where they were needed. Coverage within all the schools is now 100 percent.
In addition to being available to the teachers, the wireless system is also currently extended to guests. Parents and other visitors can now use their own smartphones or tablets to access to the Internet while they’re in the school, with performance comparable to what they’re used to at work or home. The system also has the capacity to handle devices from all the students, although that capability has not been enabled yet.
“Right now, we prefer that if students need to go onto the Internet for a school project that they use our laptop or iPad carts,” Ford says. “It’s a good interim step until we make some decisions on where we want to take technology in the classroom. But it’s good to know that if we decide to provide full access to students, the capacity is already there.”
One of the major deciding factors in making Single Path the District’s de facto IT department was its deep experience with other K-8 and K-12 school districts. Having first-hand understanding of what others are doing to bring technology into the classroom makes it easier for Single Path to provide technical guidance. It’s a decision that has paid huge dividends.
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