Heads in the cloud: Bremerton School District looks to make big tech changes

BREMERTON — The Bremerton School District is hoping to overhaul its wireless capabilities in the coming years, from increased bandwidth to Chromebooks in every school. If all goes according to plan, Bremerton schools could find itself in the cloud and ahead of the curve.

BREMERTON — The Bremerton School District is hoping to overhaul its wireless capabilities in the coming years, from increased bandwidth to Chromebooks in every school.

If all goes according to plan, Bremerton schools could find itself in the cloud and ahead of the curve.

Increased WiFi speed districtwide

The district is looking to more than double its WiFi capacity next year, greatly enhancing schools’ ability to integrate new technologies into the classroom.

The project is contingent upon a grant from Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) that would cover the cost of 80 percent of the project.

Total cost to the district would be about $67,500.

“What this will allow us to do is change the dynamic of how we teach or how we bring technology or learning equipment into the the classroom because we’ll have an access point in every classroom,” said Steve Bartlett, technologies services supervisor. “We’ll also augment the access points in the various meeting areas like the libraries, the common area in the high school.”

The district’s WiFi strength is largely based on the number of “access points,” which retransmit the signal further and further away from the server. The more access points, the stronger the signal strength. In some places, double to triple current speeds.

At the moment, there are 169 access points in the district, or one per 3-4 classrooms.

By next fall, there could be 390 — one per classroom — including replacements

for existing access points. This will greatly increase the bandwidth, allowing for more devices to connect.

“This will enhance that capability with every classroom having a strong signal and an access point versus trying to reap off ones that are just strategically placed,” said Superintendent Aaron Leavell. “Particularly our elementary schools where they do have a couple labs in each library already.”

Chromebooks at every school

The increased bandwidth is in concert with major upgrades to the district’s in-class technological capabilities, namely hundreds of new Chromebooks.

“The wireless is all just foundation to support that,” Bartlett said.

Next year the district has plans to add about 400 Chromebooks, primarily in elementary schools — roughly enough for one per classroom. It’s the first wave of what Bartlett hopes is a three-year rollout.

“We have a three year plan (that’s) very subject to change,” Bartlett said. “Our goal is to have several carts per building.”

Bartlett said it’s important the district upgrade its wireless capabilities in the near future. Schools can handle the first wave of Chromebooks with the current number of access points, but any more will slow the internet to a near halt.

“The following year when we start putting out more and that’s when we’d run into problems,” Bartlett said.

The district has already begun beta testing Chromebase, the desktop equivalent of a Chromebook, at View Ridge and Armin Jahr Elementary Schools.

“It’s kind of an exciting time for us. We’re trying to create a more sustainable technology model,” Bartlett said. “It’s one of the most interesting and impactful things we’ve done in my (15 years) here.”

Implementation

The district expects an answer from USAC regarding whether it qualifies for the grant this summer.

“We are only going to be encumbered of that money if we receive a funding commitment letter,” Bartlett said. “So if it’s approved, we submit it to the federal government and then we wait until anywhere from a month from now until mid-July or sometimes even late into August.”

Work will begin only after funding has been agreed upon. However, Bartlett said he’s 70 percent sure the district will receive funding. He’s already begun budgeting around the project.

“Right now we have the money budgeted,” Bartlett said. “It wouldn’t be any increase in cost (if work began later than expected) so we wouldn’t ask for any additional budget to be moved into the technology budget  — we made accommodations into our plans to be able to cover that cost.”

Bartlett said the district fielded six bids, but ultimately chose Bellevue-based Ednetics.

While Ednetics didn’t offer the cheapest bid, that belonged Matrix Cloud at about $172,000, Bartlett believes they offered the best total options in terms of training and support.

“The overall cost was cheaper for us to maintain and manage a system that worked with our current environment,” Bartlett said.

 

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