Rick Bauer, chief information officer for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., joined the school in 1997 to help prepare it for the next millennium. “The administration saw the potential that computers and networking offered, but did not have a clear plan to help students take advantage of it,” he said.
The 500-student private high school since has instituted an aggressive technology program. Students now are expected to use laptop computers to take notes, classrooms are wired so curriculum can be tightly tied to computer-based instruction, and a handful of programming classes are offered.
Along with the school’s change in outlook, students’ use of the internet swelled, multimedia applications began to emerge, and the school wanted to hold videoconferences with sister sites in Australia and England. To support its increased technology focus, the school needed to upgrade its network infrastructure.
Because it placed strong emphasis on voice and video, The Hill School opted to deploy an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) backbone network. After talking with a handful of suppliers, the school purchased equipment from Siemens Information and Communication Networks Group of Munich, Germany. “We felt the ATM spec was still in flux at the time, but it seemed Siemens was standards-driven and would quickly offer compliant products,” Bauer explained. Also, the company offered both data and voice ATM equipment, while other suppliers focused on one or the other.
By the fall of 1997, the high school had installed the network, which connects 36 buildings on campus. In addition to wiring classrooms and administrative buildings, the high school ran a voice connection and a data line to each dorm room. “We wanted to make it simple for students to access computer resources,” Bauer said.
While upgrading the network, the school decided to revamp its servers, which were a hodgepodge of PC and UNIX systems. “Management was difficult, because each department had been able to purchase its own equipment,” Bauer said. “We wanted the new system to enable members of the IT department to leave work at 5 p.m., rather than troubleshoot the network all night.”
The high school migrated to servers from Dell Computers Inc. of Round Rock, Tex., running Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system to support academic and administrative tasks. Now, the school relies mainly on Microsoft and Siemens tools to ensure that the network and its servers are available. “We have a lot more visibility into and control over the network and computers now, because the equipment is the same from department to department,” Bauer said.
But the school needed one more management tool. With so much information flowing over the network, the school had to be sure that information was secure. “We wanted to deploy the network as an idealist, but secure it as a Calvinist,” Bauer joked.
Since anyone could log onto a system, it was possible that first a faculty member and later a student would work with the same PC. The Hill School had to be sure that the students wouldn’t be able to access confidential information.
For this task, the school selected WinShield Secure Desktop from Citadel Technology of Dallas. “The Citadel software worked with a variety of desktop clients,” Bauer said.
The product’s usage feature controls the length of time a user has access to a computer system or an application: An administrator can define the length of system inactivity before a user would automatically be logged off. “We wanted to be sure that if a teacher was called away from a machine and left it operating, a student wouldn’t be able to use it to access private data,” Bauer said.
The product offers other benefits as well. Users often cause system problems by installing unauthorized software, downloading drivers, or changing system settings. WinShield’s folder protection feature enables a network administrator to control access to specific files, folders, desktop shortcuts, or even drives so private information will remain that way and students can’t copy, move, delete, or rename files. The product also gives schools the ability to secure files and folders as read-only and to prevent changes to file attributes.
In addition, an administrator can allow the use of an application, but restrict certain application functions, menus, and options. The product disables menu items and features in Windows applications. For instance, an administrator can disable the Options item from the Tool menu in Microsoft Word.
Use of the software has helped keep problem calls to a minimum. “The WinShield product has enabled us to balance offering students and teachers flexibility in accessing systems with our need to control the information they work with,” Bauer said.
The Hill School declined to implement WinShield Secure Desktop’s filtering capabilities. “We understand that the internet–like the rest of the world–is not a perfect place, and there may be times when students will access inappropriate materials,” Bauer said. “Rather than watching everything they work with and reprimanding them when they make bad choices, we would rather focus on providing them with the background needed so they make good decisions.”
Yet, even the best filtering tools may not be enough to keep its students from accessing inappropriate materials. The Hill School offers classes in not only C++, Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and the world wide web, but students can even become Microsoft Certified Engineers, a classification normally associated with full-time computer industry professionals.
Its network emphasis has pushed the school to technology’s leading edge. The school is now moving to voice-over internet protocol (IP), an emerging specification that enables an organization to run its voice communications over its local access networks. “Implementing voice-over IP will eliminate redundancy and simplify management,” Bauer said.
As the next millennium approaches, The Hill School seems well-positioned to take advantage of emerging computer and networking technology.