Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good news from IT!

I'm quoting at length below an email we received this morning from Bob Walton in IT. Good news in so many ways!

Two years ago, the average age of a desktop computer in our district was 8 years old.  Our email service was run on several expensive and difficult to maintain servers.  Only about half of our schools had building-wide WIFi and that WiFi is aging and strained in this day and age of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.  Quite honestly, things were pretty bleak from a technology perspective. 
I am happy to say a new era has begun in the Worcester Public Schools.  We have leap-frogged many of our peers in the state and we show no signs of slowing down.  Two years ago we took the monumental step of replacing every computer in the district with modern desktops and LCDs that run the current version of Microsoft Office.  These desktops are leased, meaning we plan on replacing them with new computers at the end of their five year lease.  This means we will stay on the edge of technology rather than a boom/bust cycle. 

We have also begun the rollout of Office 365 in the district.  Corporations and universities are all moving towards cloud based services and most of them are choosing Microsoft Office 365.  This is because Office 365 provides the same user experience as most of us are used to, as well as providing an un-paralleled level of compliance with medical and other important security standards.  We have rolled out Office 365 to over half of our staff and will roll it out to the remaining staff this summer.  In addition, we will create accounts for all students in grades 7 and higher this summer.  This will allow students to take advantage of the same features as the teachers, as well as allowing them to collaborate with their peers.  In addition, it also allows students and staff to install up to 5 copies of the full version of Office on any of their home computers for free. 

I know people are using the technology in our schools because our Internet traffic is peaking higher than ever.  This is great news but has created a bottleneck on our webfilter.  We are sorry the webfilter was not able to keep up with the demand as well as we would have liked as the year winds down, but we want to let you know there is relief in sight.  Over the next few weeks, we will be implementing dual webfilters that are rated for much higher capacity.  In addition, we are more than tripling our Internet bandwidth for the next school year.   You should see a much more capable Internet connection when you return for the new school year.

We are on the move with a multi-million dollar project to improve the wireless in our schools.  The schools in our district that currently do have building-wide WiFi have WiFI that is now 6 plus years old and was installed before the iPad was invented.  Things have changed dramatically in the mobile world since then.  Wireless no longer just needs to cover a building, it must be able to handle a large number of devices in a small area. Our current wireless simply cannot handle that.  Our funding for wireless projects has always come from a federal grant program called Erate.  Erate funding has basically been non-existent for wireless projects for the last five years.  That has changed this year with the Erate modernization order.  I am happy to let you know we have applied for, and full expect to be funder for, high speed dense wireless coverage in 26 of our schools in this next school year (list below).  We fully intend to apply for the remaining schools next fiscal year.

These are exciting times for the Worcester Public Schools.  We have modern computers, cloud based modern collaboration software, a new filter and Internet connection to better support our increased demand for these services on the way, and modern high speed WiFi coming to over half our schools this year and the other half next year.  I believe it is our responsibility to provide our students with the technology experience they will need to succeed in work or college.  We have come a long way in two years and we have a bit more to go, but our students are now graduating with experience using the same modern technology resources that are used in businesses and universities globally.  The future is looking very bright.

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