Austin, Texas is the fastest growing big city is in the U.S. As a result, we have an extremely large student population in the Austin Independent School District (ISD) – about 85,000 students in 129 school communities. We’re proud that our student population is extremely diverse, but we do face challenges with language barriers and economic inequalities. With the city’s growth holding steady, we made it a priority to provide equally distributed public education to the Austin community.
President Obama’s ConnectED initiative helped serve as a catalyst for change within Austin ISD. The initiative’s focus on empowering teachers and students through access to digital content aligned nicely with our own vision. Specifically, administrative leaders and decision makers created our own program, Austin ISD Vision 2020, an initiative aimed at building classrooms where students are producers and contributors, as opposed to simply digital consumers.
A major roadblock to pushing our vision forward has been the recapture and redistribution of taxpayer’s money in Texas, which requires districts to return money to the state. For 2015, Austin ISD will be mandated to return $175 million, more than any other school district in the state. Of course, this has a significant effect on how funding can be allocated by the district.
To align with ConnectED, our 2020 classroom vision and the district’s budgetary constraints, we set out to find ways to be cost-effective and still provide specialized learning in an increasingly collaborative, digital environment. We needed a technology solution that could help us keep operational costs down and meet the district’s growing bandwidth requirements (50% annually), with the capacity to support additional applications.
Cisco’s Resilient Ethernet Protocol (REP) technology and updated energywise switches met our needs. These technologies ensured fast and reliable network convergence on our existing fiber-optic infrastructure while lowering costs. The solution helped to connect our district’s 129 different school communities in a cost-effective manner, and gave each campus a converged set of network services.
For us, the three biggest advantages of the REP technology are affordability, high bandwidth and high reliability. These three components enable our district to be a more effective, agile and responsive organization that is better equipped to use our resources intelligently. The speed of our network has increased exponentially, and with better bandwidth, we’ve been able to meet ConnectED initiatives.
Today, our classrooms have next-generation wireless access, VoIP and cutting-edge cloud services – regardless of their location. Some of the programs powered by the new REP network include dual-language courses, early-college high schools and online learning. Students and parents are using a cloud-based web portal, which gives them access to applications, textbooks, grades, progress reports, assignments, financial programs and more.
Our ultimate goal is to use technology and connectedness to reinvent the classroom experience, ensuring that students and instructors have access to the information and tools they need to succeed. As educators, it’s our responsibility to equip tomorrow’s leaders with the skills they need to thrive in our constantly changing world and technology will play a big role in making that happen.