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Too Much Technology for Too Little an Infrastructure

In 2007, a three-school district in New Hampshire started to see the first signs that its technology infrastructure was just too small for the equipment it had purchased. With 1,600 students and 300 staff members, the SAU 27-Litchfield (N.H.) School District was struggling to keep up with the increasing demands on its outdated network—from employee email, to online student testing, to multimedia applications.

And because the network server had been set up in the high school, all network traffic in the district had to be rerouted to the high school. “Prior to the fall of 2007, we had some preliminary signs of problems,” says Stephen Martin, the district’s business administrator. “Employees were increasingly unable to access the network and email.”

In 2008, middle school students were taking the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) online test when the wireless connection went down. The test eventually resumed, but the interruption caused inaccuracies in the results, Martin recalls.

The problems stemmed from a combination of events: In the 2005-2006 school year, the district bought laptops for every teacher and purchased more PCs for classrooms. Mobile laptop labs, in which 20 to 25 wireless laptops were carted from classroom to classroom, were rolled out in the middle school. More middle and high school students were using multimedia applications, which took up more bandwidth. Finally, the district was implementing more network-based applications, including email, which were filed and stored in the high school.

It was in the fall of 2009 “when everything hit the wall,” Martin recalls. “The network was broken.”

Martin declared an emergency and brought in an outside consultant to analyze the problem and recommend corrections.

In March 2010, the consultant identified some serious problems, including the need for more bandwidth. A three-year implementation plan was expected to cost $354,000, out of a $19 million annual district budget.

New Technology Leadership

The district hired a new technology director, Kyle Hancock, in July 2010. Hancock made some important changes. “Why are all the servers centralized in the high school, with no redundancy in other buildings?” he asked. “To improve redundancy and mitigate ongoing problems,” he explains, “we decentralized a bit and made sure each school [had a server and] could operate somewhat autonomously.”

Last spring, the district created a guest access program so that students and teachers could bring in their own wireless devices and connect them to the district network. On the first day of school this year, more than 100 people had logged on with their iPods, iPads and tablets. The district is still not using these devices for classroom work, but Hancock says, “It’s definitely coming.”

The last phase will bring wireless control at the middle and elementary schools, which will facilitate guest access for devices and monitoring software so the technology department can keep an eye out for any problems, Martin says. The goal is to be proactive, rather than reactive.

“The biggest thing the district needed to do was look at things and ask why,” Hancock says. “Make sure you’re not just replacing a broken system that’s going to break again.”