Three years ago, each of Whiteville City Schools’ four school buildings had only a dial-up connection to the internet. Today, the 2,800-student district in rural North Carolina can boast that it has one of the most technologically advanced networks in the country, thanks to the the leadership and dedication of its curriculum director, Patricia Medlin.

Whiteville owns its own educational metropolitan area network (EMAN), consisting of 30 miles of fiber-optic cable running directly to the classroom. The network uses Gigabit Ethernet technology to deliver voice, video, and data communications at speeds up to 1 gigabit—or 1,000 megabits—per second throughout the district.

The combination of Gigabit Ethernet and fiber to the classroom creates a highly reliable and scalable network that is capable of meeting both current and future bandwidth demands. A district-wide eMail system, remote network monitoring, voice-over-IP, telephony, and distance learning are just a few of the capabilities the network provides.

With more than 60 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, Whiteville is by no means a wealthy community. The district’s experience proves that anything is possible when you work hard and solicit help from the community, Medlin said.

“Our attitude was, ‘Let’s find the funding,'” she said. “It took vision from the district level, and that meant support from our superintendent, Dr. Anthony Parker, and the school board. We were determined to make it happen one way or another.”

At first, Medlin—who coordinated the entire project— thought there was no way the district would be able to afford a fiber-based network. But in a competitive bid against some of the state’s best data contractors, Lawrenceville, Ga.-based solutions provider FIBERWORKS Inc. proved her wrong.

Owning the network will save the district thousands of dollars in leased-line charges over the course of the network’s lifetime, said the company’s Scott Burkholder: “When you factor in total cost of ownership, it’s really a cost-effective way to go.”

The district leases only a single T1 line from its state telecommunications provider to get to and from the internet, and that connection is subsidized by the eRate. For help in financing the rest of the project, Medlin and the district turned to partnerships with local businesses.

At Medlin’s request, Sumitomo Electric Lightwave Corp. generously donated five miles of six-strand, single mode fiber to connect the district’s four schools and its administrative building. Carolina Power and Light Co. mapped out the route for the fiber runs between the five sites, allowed the district to use its poles at no cost, and even exchanged a pole at no cost in order to make room for the fiber.

In addition, Sprint Telephone and Time Warner Cable waived their pole rental fees for the district, and Time Warner also exchanged a pole at no cost to make room for district’s fiber.

“Regulatory process allows you to get on the poles, but it doesn’t require that the process be easy,” Medlin said. “They had to be willing to work with us to do this, and they were willing to provide the resources. Without the collaborative effort of these business partners, the network would not have been put in place.”

All told, Medlin figures it only cost the district about $600,000 to install the network—some $130,000 to $140,000 of which was spent on electrical upgrades. For help with the rest of the project’s costs, the district was able to secure state technology funding.

“The infrastructure we have in place now has opened so many doors for us,” Medlin said. “The potential that is there is mind-boggling.” As an example, she said the state Department of Education has invited Whiteville City Schools to take part in a video streaming project, and the district’s schools now have access to a statewide database of periodicals, encyclopedias, and lesson plans online.

“None of this would have been possible before,” she said.


Links:
Whiteville City Schools
http://www.whiteville.k12.nc.us

FIBERWORKS Inc.
http://www.fiberworks.com