Jasper County School District Provides an Exemplary Education to Students in Lowcountry Region of South Carolina

Bob Nilsson Published 16 Apr 2018

Extreme Networks instituted the Exemplary Award to recognize outstanding achievement in K-12 education. Schools that join this elite group have often overcome severe obstacles, but through innovation, creativity, planning, and teamwork on the part of their staff, students receive a quality education and are prepared to change the world. Jasper County School District in Jasper County, South Carolina is the latest recipient of the Exemplary Award. Here is their story.

In 2014, Jasper County was without Wi-Fi access in all of its four school buildings. That wasn’t the only obstacle faced by this rural school district in South Carolina. With an overall district poverty level of 88.5% and all students receiving free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, the district had severely limited funds for technology. Equipment was outdated, most classroom and lab computers were over four years old. Network connectivity was spotty; Internet access at the Hardeeville campus was operating at a slow crawl. The district had been through several technology directors. When the current technology director, Tracye Stormer, came on board in April, Peter Ocasio was the only technician serving the entire district.  Ms. Stormer had arrived from Beaufort County, one of the larger counties in South Carolina and immediately assessed the technology inequities in Jasper County compared with Beaufort County, a nearby district separated only by a bridge. The students at Jasper were technology-deficient.

The Jasper County technology department began by setting procedures in place, removing antiquated workstations while keeping those which were viable, and creating an overall technology plan that included:

  1. Strengthening the infrastructure
  2. Updating classroom and office workstations
  3. Implementing 1:1 mobile devices in the longer term

A pre-approved bond referendum provided funding to purchase Wi-Fi access points (APs) for the schools. The installed Cisco switches however, were outdated and incremental funding was not available to replace them. By moving to Extreme Networks, the district was able to stretch funding to upgrade the switches in all data closets (IDFs) and main closets (MDFs) including at the district office. This major project took the better part of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year.

“The strengthening of our network infrastructure has brought Jasper County into the 21st century with technology and we are closing the technology divide that existed for our teachers and students. Our selection of Extreme for our backbone has proven to be one of our best decisions. We are still learning and growing. We collaborate with districts throughout the state as we’re all trying to assist in providing the best education we can for our students while working to keep our networks safe and secure.” — Tracye Stormer, technology director of Jasper County School District

The wireless network project began with Ridgeland Elementary and Hardeeville Ridgeland Middle School during the fall 2014-15. The plan called for using the bond funds with the project being registered as a Wave 2 E-rate fundable expense. This allowed the district to use the returned E-rate funds to complete the project at Hardeeville Elementary and Ridgeland Hardeeville High School. As fate would have it, USAC (the E-rate administrator) cancelled funding of all Wave 2 projects that year. The district was able to complete installations at all campuses, but was left without the money they had planned to recoup for future projects.

The installation included placing one Extreme switch in each IDF dedicated to the Extreme APs, which were placed in every classroom to accommodate growth. All switches in the buildings were upgraded from Cisco to Extreme, the maintenance cost being far less than the cost of Cisco SmartNet licenses.

The principal at Ridgeland Elementary had already purchased laptops for his teachers – now with a wireless network, they could be imaged and distributed to the teachers. The middle school ordered laptops for teachers, and carts and laptops for 6th grade students. The district did not have an instructional technology specialist nor dedicated technology coaches. They contracted an ITS to begin training with the middle school teachers starting with the 6th grade as a pilot. The sixth-grade teachers met regularly to train and plan how to integrate the devices into learning on their grade level.

The plan was executed smoothly. It was a great success.

During the fall of 2015-16, an additional grade level was to be included, the 1:1 initiative was rolled out to the 7th grade. On the network side, the district used E-rate funding to complete the wireless network. Mobile teacher devices were purchased for several of their schools. To prepare the teachers, the district started a “5 minutes for 1:1” program at the high school to teach teachers how to use the laptops for instruction, and to provide them with resources for 1:1 mobile learning.

The key to any successful initiative is teacher buy-in and training. Just like students, Jasper County found that their teachers were on various learning curves. To level the digital playing field for everyone, they created Technology Proficiencies. The state department began pushing Proviso 1A.21 requiring that all certified school/district staff demonstrate technology proficiency based on local guidelines and school/district professional development policies.

The district began implementing teacher technology proficiencies during 2016-17 to insure the technology was being used most effectively in student education, to simplify administrative tasks, and for better organization and time management. The technology proficiencies program helps level the digital instructional field for teachers.

Continuing The Technology Roll Out To The District

This year, Jasper has expanded the 1:1 program to grades 4-12, with the high school students taking their laptops home. The high school teachers had had their devices for two years prior to the student roll-out. As the teachers take advantage of training, many experience “ah-ha” moments and come to embrace technology in the classroom to the appreciation of the students.

A state department grant allows Jasper County to offer Kajeet SmartSpots to students without home Internet access. As a rural district, there are many such areas where Wi-fi is simply not yet available.

Exemplary Award Criteria

As an Exemplary School Award recipient, Jasper County School District meets the following requirements.

  • Stimulate 24×7 Learning: To meet the demands of today’s competitive global economy, schools must create lifetime learners. To promote this concept and qualify for the Extreme Exemplary School Award, a school must institute a 1:1 or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mobile learning environment.
  • Facilitate Individual Instruction: Learning is not a one-size-fits-all environment. Networks and resources must be empowered to permit personalized digital learning.
  • Encourage Curricular Growth: To meet the demands of curricular change, a district must implement an infrastructure that readily adapts to curricular needs. Everyone learns differently, and the network must be prepared to meet the growing requirements of eBooks, streaming video and blended or flipped learning.

For more information, please view these resources.

Related Primary & Secondary Education (K-12) Stories