Greeneville City Schools: “Learning Without Limits”

Introduction

Located in East Tennessee, Greeneville City Schools is one of the state’s top-performing school districts. They were named the number one public school district in Tennessee by both Business Insider Magazine and the Niche Ranking’s 2016 survey. Also, the College Board included Greeneville City Schools in their 2015 Gaston Caperton Opportunity Honor Roll of the top 130 school districts, recognizing that they excel in creating opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students.

To deliver on their district motto of “Learning Without Limits”, Greeneville City Schools has upgraded their network with a robust wireless solution. This new solution supports a 1:1 computing, BYOD program, and other learning initiatives that enable their 3,000 students to connect to their devices and learn from anywhere, both now and well into the future.

Keeping Up with the Times

Like many school districts, one of the biggest challenges that Greeneville City Schools faced was keeping up with the times. “At one time providing wireless coverage was the challenge,” says Chuck Broyles, IT Operations Administrator at Greeneville City Schools, “but now wireless is no longer just nice to have, it’s the only thing you can have.” With device demands escalating rapidly, they knew they had to design their network to not only handle the current demands, but also be prepared to handle the ever-increasing number of student personal devices.

To meet the needs of their 1:1 wireless school district, GCS looked to update their old Cisco network to a more modern system. The challenge they faced was to design a wireless network to provide robust coverage for their 3,500 students and faculty across 9 locations, yet they had to design it in a way that was not overkill and allowed them to utilize the skills of their two-person network team in other areas.

Putting the Network to the Test

A reliable network to take the school district into the future was top of mind as Greeneville City Schools’ technology team evaluated vendors for their network upgrade. After doing their homework and evaluating many vendors by comparing their access points to see which worked best, Extreme Networks was chosen for “outperforming the competition”. Taking it a step further, and to see what kind of load they could put on the networking equipment, Extreme was put to the test. In a Proof of Concept (POC), they were asked to provide the wireless network for the school district’s bi-annual Tech Blitz held at their high school. The Extreme wireless network successfully connected 500 people requiring simultaneous access, thus giving GCS the confidence that Extreme’s solution would have no trouble providing 25-30 students with Web access in classrooms.

While cost is always an important consideration, Greeneville City Schools was more concerned with finding a solution to leverage the skills of their two-person network team for other projects. “We are always looking for ways that will help us continuously improve our services to our customers, as well as make the most of our human capital. The fact that we have only two people responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of our complex network causes someone in my position to want to be sure that I am equipping them with the very best tools,” said Greeneville City Schools Assistant Director of Schools for Administration and the Chief Technology Officer, Beverly Miller. “Thanks to the reliable and easy-to-use Extreme equipment and management tools that we invested in, we are able to take full advantage of the talent on our team and use it in other areas to make our IT program exemplary.”

With the new network, Greeneville City Schools has doubled the number of APs and upgraded all the switches which allowed them to kick o their BYOD program. They rely on Extreme Network Access Control (NAC) every day to manage the program and allow them to provide an easy, best-in-class way for students to quickly connect their personal device to the network with one log-in. In addition, NAC gives the system an easy way to not only onboard devices, but to locate them and kick them o the network if needed.

Bringing Down the Walls

“Our goal with the updated network solution was to knock down the walls,” said Broyles, “this has been one of the underlying things we’ve been trying to push forward and Extreme is helping to make that happen.” The students no longer need to be con ned to the classroom; instead learning can be facilitated from anywhere, thus fulfilling the district’s new motto “Learning without Limits.” Their faculty is eagerly engaged in many learning initiatives from personalized learning to competency based and mastery level learning, all made possible with the new network.

The networking team at Greeneville City Schools sums up their experience working with Extreme in a word – “Excellent.” Broyles says that the Extreme GTAC has been phenomenal on the rare occasions that they have had to contact support: “The Extreme equipment is very reliable, but the fact is everyone is going to have equipment failure occasionally, no matter what name is on the box. While these occurrences have been few and far between, when they have happened they have been very easy to fix.”

This small school district in East Tennessee was named number one in the state by two separate organizations, a success that the CTO attributes to aligning themselves with premium business partners such as Extreme and their networking partner, Personal Computer Systems (PCS). According to Miller, “We take the selection of our partners as seriously as anything we do. When we align ourselves with a company we set very high expectations for the relationship and we have been exceptionally pleased with Extreme and PCS.”

As far as the future goes, Greeneville City Schools will be looking to build out an online academy, start micro credentialing, begin online testing, and continue adding Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Miller said, “We are continuously reimagining our infrastructure and have a vision of where we are and where we need to be. While we don’t know what’s around the corner, we do know that by continuing to build out our very robust Extreme wireless infrastructure, we will be ready to support whatever comes along.”

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