A technology upgrade is underway across the Wallenpaupack Area School District. Improvements are foreseen in the new school year in the ability to notify parents of important information by means of phone robo-calls and social media. Classroom and office computers will have more bandwidth.
WALLENPAUPACK - A technology upgrade is underway across the Wallenpaupack Area School District. Improvements are foreseen in the new school year in the ability to notify parents of important information by means of phone robo-calls and social media. Classroom and office computers will have more bandwidth. Additional iPads will be in place to assist teachers, music leaders and physical education directors.
Steven Nalesnik, Director, Department of Information Services, gave an overview to the School Board, August 14th, of what’s in store prior to the start of class, Tuesday, September 5, for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Those of you who were on the board for a while may recall a presentation I gave about 23 years ago,” Nalesnik said, “pertaining to a district-wide, high-speed computer network with connections in every classroom; a single unified telephone system, and connection ti this new resource that we were calling the Internet.”
He announced this time that the first round of upgrades to this plan were now almost done.
Over the summer, his department has been working to implement five of 12 strategies that were recommended to be put in place over the next few years. These were reported last January to the board by a consulting firm, Dellicker Strategies. School administration prioritized what should be done first.
Among the recommendations was to expanding network and bandwidth speed, from one gigabyte/second (Gbps) to 10 Gbps.
Administration agreed that at first, they would double the capacity, to two Gbps. This was going online that week.
Fiber optic cables
This summer they replaced their system’s network switches to give them the speed they needed.
In planning the upgrade, they realized that the existing fiber optic connections, dating from 1994, would not be sufficient to carry the increased bandwidth. ePlus Technologies was engaged to make an assessment, which he said confirmed the department’s fears. A request for proposals (RFP) was put out to replace the interior cables and those connecting the High School to the Middle School/Elementary School complexes.
This project was being finalized and tested that week, which will allow a boost from one Gbps to 40 Gbps, across the “main backbone” between these school complexes.
Everon Electrical replaced the interior fiber optic cables, and Squid Wire did the exterior work.
The last recommendation they addressed was the telephone system.
In 1994 the district installed the AT&T Infinity System. Parts and support for this system were getting more difficult to find. Also, the E-rate funding program, which had been subsidizing a large percentage of the district’s telephone services, has changed their rules and are gradually phasing out traditional telephone subsidies.
Nalesnik said these factors made it an easy decision to justify. The technology has progressed so much that they can get superior performance in a smaller package at a lower ongoing cost. One again, an RFP went out.
They chose Infradept, which installed and configured a new Voice Over IP phone system.
“Finally the teachers will be able to see who’s calling,” Nalesnik said.
They are ensuring that each classroom has a working phone system.
Where they had multiple cabinets across the district to serve the phone infrastructure, the new phone network uses smaller, centrally located appliances taking one tenth the space.
Emergency calling system
A new Emergency Calling System has been out in place, which is designed to benefit parents of students, augmenting traditional means of getting information out.
Swift K-12, from Alert Solutions, installed a system that integrates with the school district’s student database. Calls can be put out to the entire roster of students’ homes, or just a subset.
School cancellations, early dismissals, attendance calling, low lunch balance notifications and news about one houses may be made; messages may be sent by phone, text or email.
Facebook use grows
Middle School Principal Christopher Caruso stated that Facebook use is expanding. In the last couple years only the high school utilized a page, and they could see how useful it has been to getting information out quickly to families.
Each school building now makes use of Facebook. The high school and middle school each has their own page, and the three elementary schools share a page.
As for the computer hardware, Nalesnik said that ideally, no on computer will be more than four years old, but realistically, it doesn’t work out that way. They are attempting a four year cycle. Every four years computers will be replaced in the elementary schools, and parts replaced in the high and middle schools. In the fourth year they concentrate on computers in the high and middle levels.
The older computers are being taken out of service each year. This year it was the South Elementary School’s turn, where over 200 computers were replaced.
Over 90 new iPads were purchased. In addition to using them for specialized departments such as music and physical ed, regular classrooms will be getting them. Nalesnik highlighted the need for them with the new reading program being implemented in the elementary schools.
They are close to being able to have one computer over student, Nalesnik stated, but are not there yet. the school district, in total, has over 2,500 computers.
Good funding news
Superintendent Michael Silsby commented that they have accomplished what they intended to do ninth First Phase. Next, the district will concentrate on upgrading wireless coverage and access. This fall an assessment will be done to learn what is required to move forward.
The good news regarding funding, Silsby said, is that money the district earmarked for construction funds for the technology project, got a good return from a federal E-rate program that subsidizes these kind of initiatives.
The technology upgrades for the new phone system cost $413,896. The district will receive a reimbursement totaling $192,548. The next cost to the district will then be $221,348 once they receive the funds.