Summer break is over, and the new school year is underway. If you’re like most school districts, you’ve had a busy summer, performing much needed system maintenance and installing or upgrading technology for the upcoming year. These early weeks have probably been action-packed, working out logistical challenges, solving problems, and performing myriad other tasks that go along with settling into a new school season.
This school year marks year three of the E-rate Modernization Order—the five-year plan announced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2014 with the principal goal of expanding Wi-Fi networks for schools and libraries. The Eligible Services List (ESL) for FY2017 of the E-rate program was released on September 12. And although the school year has just begun, now is a great time to start thinking about how you’ll want to use those funds.
The Form 470 filing window is open, making now a perfect time to ask some important questions about your technology plan. What new initiatives do you have planned for the upcoming year? Will your current technology plan support them? If not, what adjustments do you need to make? As you think through those questions and prepare this years’ E-rate submission, here are four areas to consider:
- Density. In schools today, there are more devices per person requiring network connectivity than at any other time in history. One-to-one initiatives are becoming commonplace in high schools across the country and are quickly spreading to the junior high and middle school levels, resulting in 20-30 devices in every classroom. Bring your own device (BYOD) policies allow students and staff to use mobile phones and tablets along with school-supplied devices. And online standardized testing often requires large groups of students to convene in central locations, such as cafeterias or gymnasiums, potentially stressing existing networks. Many wireless networks were designed with less density requirements than we see today. Does your current wireless network design support these needs? With new technology and digital learning methods coming available, will it support your needs in the future?
- Performance. Personalized learning and digital collaboration is changing the way subjects are taught and content is consumed. The expanded use of video and other tools such as Google Classroom are putting a premium on network performance. Caching engines and faster routers and switches allow digital content to be delivered faster and more effectively. Does your network infrastructure need to be upgraded to improve performance?
- Reliability. With digital learning, wireless connectivity is now a critical part of the classroom learning experience. The network is the backbone for modern classrooms, and it must be high-performing and reliable. Because if the network goes down, the student learning experience is impacted. Is your wireless network designed to be self-healing? Is the multi-path fiber to your IDF closets configured with resilient switch stacks? Is there sufficient UPS power in all of your wiring closets?
- Security. Without question, information security is a concern for every school district. Cyber theft continues to grow, and with the amount of personal information stored about students and staff members, school systems are ripe targets. In fact, a recent report from BitSight shows that the education sector suffers more ransomware attacks than another other industry. Implementing an effective security program is essential to maintain compliance and to guard against cyber threats. Are you compliant with CIPA, HIPPA, FERPA, and COPPA? Are you deploying IDS/IPS at the edge of your network? Are you prepared for malware and ransomware attacks?
It’s Never Too Early to Get Started
Change is happening quickly in K-12 education—aided in no small part by advancements in teaching methods and technology—and the future will be exciting to see. Now is a great time to bolster your network infrastructure and to prepare for the needs of tomorrow through careful planning and the strategic use of E-rate funding. While the filing deadline may seem far away, it’s never too early to start evaluating your technology plan and answering strategic questions.
At ePlus, we specialize in helping school districts design and implement technology plans that are right for them. For information on how we can help you, click here to get in touch with us or contact your ePlus Account Executive.