Jefferson County Schools (JCS) is a K-12 public school district in eastern Tennessee. Based in a rural area, JCS strives to develop technically adept students who are reflective practitioners, change agents and lifelong learners. The school district relies heavily upon its nine-person IT department to implement and deliver effective digital programs and initiatives to support its 7,500 students and 1,150 employees. With 12 schools and six administrative offices, the IT department must optimize its IT and personnel resources to enable a high-quality education for the students of the district.
Enhancing the IT Landscape for Improved Performance and Capabilities
Like most public school districts, JCS is challenged by a lack of financial resources. While its IT department strives to deliver 21st-century technology learning opportunities that foster student growth and academic excellence, its budget restraints can make this difficult. Further complicating the district’s ability to deliver innovative learning opportunities is the fact that only half the students in the district have broadband internet access in their homes.
In 2010, the technology department conducted an assessment of each school’s network and found a plethora of issues, including unmanaged network switches and a poorly configured network; a lack of wireless connectivity and network printing; an ineffective disaster recovery plan; and outdated, stand-alone computers. Without access to a wireless network, faculty members frequently brought their own “access points” to school to connect their laptops, creating a host of security and performance issues within the IT environment. Adding to the inefficiency of the landscape was the lack of a unified domain and Active Directory for user and computer management. Instead each school had a unique domain and used a single, generic username and password for student and faculty access.
As a result of these network issues and the frequent disruptions they caused, the IT staff’s time was consumed by investigating root causes and resolving critical issues. Compounding all of these issues was the staff’s lack of technical depth to effectively and proactively manage the network. To move forward, JCS’s IT leadership recognized they needed the support and guidance of a trusted partner who could provide a cost effective, high-performance solution.
IT Improvements Receive an A+ for Affordability and Performance
JCS vetted several solutions, including offerings from Extreme Networks, HP, and Cisco, to find an affordable network solution that provided the scalability, manageability and visibility to meet their needs. JCS also wanted to ensure they could afford to maintain and upgrade the solution over time.
While Cisco’s solution didn’t fit within their budget restraints, both Extreme Networks and HP provided appropriate network solutions at an affordable price. Given JCS’s limited funding and small staff, having a partner who could assist them in rolling out new initiatives, provide support throughout the year, and offer new solutions as they became available was critical.
JCS ultimately chose an Extreme Networks solution provided by Personal Computer Systems (PCS), a full networking, cybersecurity, and managed service provider. Having previously worked with PCS, JCS’s IT staff was impressed by their customer-centric business model and highly responsive team of certified engineers and salespeople. PCS was also the first of Extreme’s entire global partner base to become an “ExtremeWireless Specialist” by completing the training necessary within the brand new ExtremeWireless Specialization Program. With PCS’s engineering team acquiring this certification, JCS saw an engineering team with unsurpassed skill and qualification to deliver.
“Having a solid relationship with our partner is of utmost importance to us,” explains Don Devine, Technology Systems Manager. “From the Extreme sales representative to our partner, PCS, we knew we would not only be supported, but valued as a customer.”
PCS assisted JCS in specifying the various switches and configurations needed to deploy a high-performing network model, ensuring that all the components of the infrastructure would seamlessly integrate to deliver a robust and efficient overall solution.
During the 2012/2013 school year, JCS’s E-Rate priority 2 applications were approved and the district received funding to replace their existing consumer-grade access points with enterprise devices in six of their schools. The network was further upgraded with virtualized servers, district-wide wireless connectivity, and the capability to manage and control network access. A disaster recovery solution was also implemented to handle the imposing threat of a major outage, and tools were included to help the IT staff find, analyze, and correct network issues as they occurred – allowing for a more proactive management of the network. Additionally, the district migrated to a single domain with over 8,500 users in Active Directory.
While this upgrade provided a significant improvement in performance, JCS still found themselves challenged by the then state-mandated 1:1 online testing protocols. To meet the requirements for online testing, JCS created a space-saving solution with a wireless access point and mobile devices on a cart. This enabled the creation of a temporary testing area. However, after installing 60 of these mobile cart units, JCS recognized that wireless coverage needed to be improved. Because of their trusted partnership with PCS, JCS turned to them again to assist with that challenge.
PCS worked diligently with the school district to assess overall network infrastructure, identify coverage inadequacies, properly configure access points, and supplement with additional devices as needed to ensure complete and reliable coverage.
Technology Upgrades and Partner Support Propel Network Performance and Student Engagement
As a result of their partnership with PCS, JCS’s technology team has become one of the more advanced IT departments in East Tennessee. Its newly implemented technology and management tools have significantly improved productivity within the department and allowed them to maintain consistent network connectivity, which has increased customer satisfaction. Because of the affordability of the solution, JCS is positioned to more readily provide upgrades when needed. In fact, during the 2016/2017 school year, they plan to upgrade their network circuit connectivity and egress throughout the district to further enhance performance.
With the network now well-configured, there has been a tremendous boost in resource allocation for JCS. The IT staff can now use the available tools to proactively and efficiently manage their systems, rather than “putting out fires.” Additionally, PCS provides their PartnerWorks support, which offers co-delivered services to customers as needed. PCS’s team of experienced engineers also provides daily monitoring for further assurance.
“PCS has been an excellent partner in our push to improve our network infrastructure,” explains Don Devine. “We faced many challenges in 2010, the biggest was the reliability of the network, or lack thereof. PCS was always available, always knowledgeable, and always willing to help in any way possible. JCS could not ask more of a partner.”
Customer satisfaction throughout the district has also greatly improved. The use of mobile devices within the classroom has dramatically enriched student engagement. By integrating iPads and laptops into their curriculum and wirelessly projecting content at the front of the classroom, teachers are better able to involve students in interactive lessons; a win-win-win for teachers, students and administration. JCS has continued this innovation, purchasing Microsoft Office 365 for every student, faculty member, and administrator during the 2014/15 school year.
These improvements are felt district-wide and the IT department is applauded by district stakeholders for the contributions and improvements it has achieved. Best yet, with PCS as its partner, JCS can continue to deploy innovative, budget-conscious initiatives for its school community.