Amp up your network administration

The relationship between schools and networking technology has undergone a circular evolution. “Computer network” entered the K-12 educational lexicon in the 1960s via timesharing computers oriented to instructional delivery. Using systems like PLATO, schools on the “cutting edge” put high-resolution display terminals into classrooms and connected them by modem-phone line links to central mainframes running educational software. Then came the personal computer revolution.

The next step? “Internet, internet, internet,” says Robert Kenyon, director of technology and network administrator for Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Fla. “The internet has become mainstream ‹ it’s where the future is. Now the issue is how to extend the educational networking concept to the internet.”

According to CCA Consulting, levels of access in schools range all over the map, from dial-up service requiring no networking through faster ISDN modem links to full T1 connections across wide area networks (WANs).

But more often than not, school connections are limited. While a majority of schools have building-to-building local area networks (LANs) connecting administrative offices, computer labs, libraries, and classrooms, very few are linked to other schools and libraries.

Four years ago, the 83 schools and administrative centers in the Cincinnati Public School District (CPSD) were isolated electronic islands. Most schools had computers in the office, or maybe in a computer lab or classrooms, but they didn’t talk to each other much. A few buildings housed administrative LANs for the office computers, but these LANs were not connected to CPSD’s district office or to other school buildings. Instructional LANs were no more than an item for discussion.

CPSD maintained inter-building links by deploying a fleet of trucks (nicknamed the “pony express”) to deliver files, memos, and hard-copy student records. A typical delivery could take two to three days. “At the beginning of the school year, it took us three or four weeks to figure out where our students were,” says Dave Hickey, manager of network and technology services for the district.

The networking plan was to put at least a three-computer networks in every school office, plus additional classroom computers so that all students could communicate via eMail with other schools inside and outside the district, and access the internet.

Local area networks have been installed in about 30 middle and high schools, which are interconnected in the district-wide network with the CPSD administrative sites via high-speed fiber backbones. Central administration supports more than 2,700 classroom computers and approximately 850 office computers located across 83 sites.

The new high-speed district WAN delivers internet access to about 11,500 student via fiber-optic cable between each school building and the central office, where seven high-performance central file servers are located. There are 3,300 workstations in classrooms and administrative offices, and CPSD has plans to go up to 6,000 with the next round of funding.

The administration is delighted with the results of its networking initiative, which has even improved student record-keeping, says Hickey. The network upgrade was key to providing student access to electronic information beyond the school building. The network allows the district to improve transportation and food services. Administrative tasks that used to take three or four weeks now takes only hours.

With the network, Hickey said,”racking students is easier and less time-consuming.

Other aspects of the project included in-school wiring for administrative school offices and classrooms, network equipment in the school cable closets, high-speed connections back to the central office, electrical upgrades, and administrative support. The district has implemented this plan in stages, with Phase I completed in October 1997.

CCA Consulting

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