Internet ‘the lifeblood of what we do with technology’
Increasing the capacity of Woodford County Public Schools’ computer network to accommodate growing Internet traffic – teachers, students and staffers – relies on the expertise of Network Administrator Jamie Tuttle and other staffers in the district’s technology department. Unlike its current network, the new fiber-line network being constructed by MetroNet will be dedicated to the distribution of data from the district’s central office to every school as well as the bus garage. Tuttle estimates more than 90 percent of the computer network traffic are users getting on the Internet. “So that Internet connection is quite literally the lifeblood of what we do with technology. Without that, we pretty much would not be doing anything now,” he said. “Twenty years ago that really wasn’t the case …, but everything’s Internet-based now,” including the district’s database for students, financial software and many other computer files. “So that’s why the state having a quality Internet service and then us having a quality fiber network to move that data is important,” said Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology Bob Gibson. The state provides every public school district in Kentucky with Internet access at no charge, but it’s up to each district to connect its buildings. Kentucky was one of the first to provide Internet service to every public school district more than 20 years ago, Tuttle said. “A lot less data could go through (those lines) and they were a lot slower (than today’s lines), but we were all connected to … (the Kentucky Department of Education) through this network they built,” said Tuttle. He said upgrading the digital lines to fiber optics about 12 years ago increased how much data of all sorts, including video, could move from the central hub at the Woodford County Board of Education office on Pisgah Pike to school buildings across the district. Capacity and speed have been increased as improvements have been made over the last decade, and Woodford County Public Schools now has much better service to its buildings than most other Kentucky school districts because of higher-capacity connections, Gibson and Tuttle said. The improvements were necessary in large measure because of the district’s one-to-one initiative, placing Chromebooks (computer tablets) in the hands of its students at the middle and high schools. “At any one time during a school day,” explained Gibson, “we can have as many as 3,000 kids, two or three hundred adults hitting the Internet at the same time.” That’s why capacity and reliability were needed. A fiber optic network and quality equipment ensured a user’s Internet requests happen instantaneously, Tuttle said. “We don’t want them frustrated,” said Gibson, “because then (students and teachers) will stop using the (technology) tools that we’ve provided.” Gibson said increasing bandwidth and capacity ensured the district could handle its growing number of Internet users. “We are using 60 to 70 percent of our Internet capacity, and that’s because there’s 4,000 devices (being used on a typical school day),” Tuttle said. He said everything depends on the district’s having a quality Internet connection to its schools. Because teachers have come to expect high-quality service, Gibson said they will immediately alert him or Tuttle if “something seems off.” Tuttle and Gibson can’t do much except contact the state Department of Education if the problem is a statewide or regional Internet issue. Other problems are more localized. “Like when the wireless access point in their room dies and I have to replace it. Some times that’s where the problem is. Or we have a critter that eats through the fiber optic line that connects Southside (Elementary School) to us (at central office), which happened several years ago,” said Tuttle. “…But when the state Internet goes down, all we can do is call them …” With 21 years of experiences in the district, Tuttle said he’s always enjoyed his work because “it’s never the same thing twice.” Tuttle said he cannot compare what he does today with what he did in 1997 when he started at the district. Every teacher didn’t have email – that was one of his first jobs – and every classroom wasn’t connected to the Internet, he said. Because of its free and reduced lunch numbers, Gibson said Woodford County schools will receive a 70 percent discount on its monthly bill for the new fiber optic network ($7,800 a month) through a federal program. He said the district had also been getting a 70 percent discount on its bill of $10,000 a month to Windstream before switching to MetroNet.