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A Guide for Superintendents Traveling the Education Superhighway

By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis

There's a lot being written about 1-to-1 device programs, online learning, and blended-learning in schools, but none of those high-tech experiments can work without the infrastructure to get Internet connectivity to students.

Lots of districts still don't have the network needed to make those laptops and tablets effective. So EducationSuperHighway, an organization aimed at improving connectivity in schools, has a new primer out for superintendents to provide them with a step-by-step guide to modernizing a district network.

"The leadership at the superintendent level has proven to be critically important to getting upgrades done and getting them done efficiently," said Nell Hurley, the director of communications for EducationSuperHighway.

The organization estimates that 62 percent of schools do not have the recommended bandwidth of today's standard of 100 kilobits per second per student. The guide, "Network Essentials for Superintendents," starts with the basics for superintendents—who are often not tech experts.

The guide defines basic concepts and network vocabulary (What is a LAN and what does it mean for your district?), maps out a timeline for upgrades based on what a district wants to accomplish, and provides strategies on getting the best deals

Some superintendents "just don't know where to start, particularly those who are not as familiar with this complex infrastructure," Hurley said. She sees the guide as a way to encourage more meaningful conversations between superintendents and technology directors or school boards, and as a way for superintendents to avoid pitfalls other districts have already experienced.

Matthew Miller, the superintendent of the Mentor, Ohio public schools, said such a guide will hopefully make other superintendents realize the urgency behind upgrading networks and making high-tech learning a priority. His district recently finished a network upgrade that brought 1 gigabit per second of connectivity to 13 of the 14 school buildings. The high school has 10 gigabits per second available. The State Educational Technology Directors Association has established a standard of 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students and staff per school by 2014-15 and 1 gigabit per second per 1,000 students and staff by 2017-18. By next year in the Mentor schools, grades 6 through 12 will have a 1-to-1 device initative in place, Miller said.

"You have to build that infrastructure, that connectivity before you can go 1-to-1," he said. "Think about how frustrated the kids and the teachers are going to be if you go 1-to-1 and you don't have the backbone in place."

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