[Editor’s note: Welcome to our newest feature, Turnaround Tuesdays. Each week, we will share a story about how a district used technology in schools to improve something. Come back each week for insight on transforming everything from reading scores to wireless network performance.]

Demographics:

Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD), with 67 schools, 6210 employees, and 63,061 students is the largest school district in northern California and fifth-largest in the state.

Biggest challenge:

Like most school districts, EGUSD is part of an increasingly mobile world. Students use smartphones and tablets in and out of the classroom, teachers put lessons and assignments online, staff use VoIP phones, and maintenance and operations need to connect their alarms and HVAC systems. It’s difficult to think of a department that doesn’t depend on wireless. Because of this, the pressure on the district’s wireless network is tremendous. In recent years, the district also added 50,000 Chromebooks to improve equity and support objectives for curriculum, digital citizenship, media literacy and state online testing.

We were seeing performance issues with our older access points, which convinced us that we needed to upgrade our network. We also needed the tools to ensure we remained on top of performance and security and to support faster wireless based on 802.11ac APs.

Solution:

We turned to Aruba not only for its wireless access points (APs) but also for its ClearPass and AirWave products for greater visibility, security, and troubleshooting. We deployed more than 3,000 new APs in two months, a process we expected to take a year or more. The accelerated schedule not only let us ease our spring testing season, but we also saw a surprising number of laptops connecting at 802.11ac speeds.

With ClearPass, we can set policies for usage, and access control is easier for IT and getting end-users online. We can segment guest traffic from school traffic, enabling secure and automatic access for any device on the network without IT intervention.

AirWave lets IT know immediately when APs go down, monitor signal quality, and see who’s logged on. The solution also can be used to manage Aruba switches.

With the improved wireless, students can now go on virtual field trips, videoconference with Skype, and more easily create, collaborate, and share.

Lessons learned:

  • As mobile use grows, control and high availability are crucial in wireless networks.
  • Speed of deployment can result in significant operational benefits.
  • Visibility into the network improves performance and troubleshooting.
  • A high-performance wireless network can unleash curriculum innovation and improve student performance.

Next steps:

  • Use the improved wireless network performance, control, and security to get more technology into the hands of students and teachers.
  • Improve the performance of Chromebooks when using web-based applications.
  • With ClearPass intelligent network segmentation, increase the number of VLANs per site.
  • Grow the use of ClearPass for BYOD and full wired authentication as well.

Next week:

Come back and see how a district turned around graduation rates and student achievement.

About the Author:

Steve Mate is chief technology officer for Elk Grove (CA) Unified School District.

Scott Blaney is senior network administrator for Elk Grove (CA) Unified School District.


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