Three years ago, the Westfield, NJ school district realized it was in need of a major infrastructure overhaul. Education was going digital, but in Westfield wireless wasn’t available in many classrooms, the network ran slower than the connection in most houses and mobile device use wasn’t supported.
“Infrastructure in general is never an exciting topic because nobody ever really sees infrastructure and it costs a lot of money,” says Brain Auker, chief technology officer for Westfield Public schools. “Everyone wants to see more computers in the classroom and students sitting there with devices, however you need the infrastructure to support all of those devices.”
The district hoped to go BYOD in the future, but knew that would be impossible without significant upgrades. So IT staff and administrators sat down to map out a three-year technology plan that included expanding wireless coverage, increasing network speed and eventually implementing mobile devices.
The first step was to expand wireless coverage throughout the district. Wireless access points were added in each school, allowing for connection within the classrooms.
“The main goal today in education is to make technology as accessible as possible as soon as possible. It’s not supposed to be a treat anymore. It’s a tool now,” says Auker.
Previously, wireless was only available in areas like the library or the cafeteria where large groups of students would gather. Although teachers in Westfield have district-issued laptops, many of them were never able to use the devices during school hours. At the start of this school year, Westfield technicians were suddenly inundated with requests to add devices to the school’s network because teachers were finally able to use the laptops the way they wanted to.
The district also increased its network speed, which had been running on a 10-megabit connection. “Most people today have a 20 or 50 megabit connection in their houses and we were trying to run an entire district off of 10,” says Auker.
Westfield originally increased its network speed by factor of ten, but is now in the process of laying down its own fiber to increase to a 1-gigabit connection between schools.
Because the district invested in improving its technology infrastructure, Westfield was also able to implement a Cisco IP phone system, eliminating the high cost for traditional phone lines.
“We could not realize the savings of an IP phone system until we increased the network