Last year, the Montclair School District began your one-to-one Chromebook initiative, providing each student with a Chromebook for in-class instruction. In June, the district announced that it had received funding to provide students with year-round devices and connectivityproviding students and families with Chromebooks and WiFi during the summer months.
Now, the district’s technology department is shifting its focus to updating and improving the district’s network infrastructure: Nearly a decade old, many of the district’s WiFi access points, switches, and other connectivity devices need to be replaced. .
“Our infrastructure is old and we’re doing a lot of trying to find grants, looking at our budget to improve our infrastructure,” said Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds. at the Montclair Board of Education’s annual retreat on August 8. “It’s one of our things that we’re struggling with, and we need to make that happen so we can keep moving forward as a district.”
The district is using E-rate funds, a program through the federal program to support schools and universal libraries, to update their eexisting infrastructure, according to a presentation by Christopher Graber, the district’s chief technology officer, at the Aug. 8 meeting.
Through the program, districts are allocated a certain discount for network equipment, based on the district’s free and reduced lunch student population. Montclair School District received a 40% discount; discounts range from 20% to 90%, depending on the program page on the Federal Communications Commission website.
But the program also caps the amount of money each district can receive in reimbursement, and for Montclair, that totaled about $1.1 million, Graber said at the Aug. 8 meeting. According to Graber, the district reached that total, replacing 150 access points and licenses, along with battery backups to ensure the network remains intact at all times.
“Infrastructure is paramount,” Graber said. “We have all of these things on our network and now we need to have a secure network and a network that is capable of taking on all of these devices.”
The district is also working to install Cisco Firepower, a next-generation firewall that will better equip the district to support all of its devices and connectivity needs, and implement security enhancements such as antivirus software and two-factor authentication tools, Graber said.
Designing, implementing and maintaining a secure network is one of the technology department’s ongoing goals, Graber told board members at the Aug. 8 meeting. But another goal of the department is “dDevelop, test, and document a well-structured, easy-to-understand disaster recovery plan.
Currently, the district backs up its data each night to a third party server. But “that’s a small thing when it comes to a complete disaster recovery plan,” Graber said.
Neighboring school districts have had to spend millions of dollars as a result of the malware, Graber said. And networks in other districts have been down for weeks or even months after an attack, she said.
So Graber and his team are planning the worst: creating additional copies of the district’s data, purchasing additional servers, researching cybersecurity insurance, and developing a plan to restore services in the event of an emergency.
“From a security perspective, it’s very important to come up with a really good contingency plan, a disaster recovery plan, in case something happens,” Graber said. “We are trying to be proactive.”
The ultimate goal of the technology department is to give students “the opportunity to connect with each other and the world through technology in the classroom,” according to Graber’s presentation.
In practice, this means that the technology team will continue to distribute devices to district families and assess technology needs. This year, all kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade students will receive new Chromebooks when they arrive at school, as part of an effort to get new devices into the hands of students, Graber said.
The technology department will also continue its work with district administrators to plan and implement digital literacy lessons through technology coordinators and computer teachers, Graber said.