The Montclair School District is working to upgrade its aging technology infrastructure
Last year, the Montclair School District began its one-to-one Chromebook initiative, providing each student with a Chromebook for classroom instruction. In June, the district announced that it had received funds to provide students with year-round devices and connectivityproviding students and families with Chromebooks and Wi-Fi during the summer months.
Today, the district’s technology department is focused on upgrading and improving the district’s network infrastructure – nearly a decade old, many WiFi access points, switches and other connectivity devices in the district. district need to be replaced.
“Our infrastructure is old and we are working hard to find grants, looking at our budget to improve our infrastructure,” said Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Ponds. at the annual Montclair Board of Education retreat on August 8. “It’s one of our things that we struggle with, and we have to make it happen so we can keep moving forward as a district.”
The district uses E-rate funding, a program through the universal support program for federal schools and libraries, to update itsexisting infrastructure, according to a presentation by Christopher Graber, the district’s chief technology officer, at the Aug. 8 meeting.
Through the program, districts receive a certain discount on network equipment, based on the district’s student population with free or discounted lunch. The Montclair School District received a 40% discount – discounts range from 20% to 90%, depending the program page on the Federal Communications Commission website.
But the program also limits the amount of money each district can receive in reimbursement, and for Montclair that comes to about $1.1 million, Graber said at the Aug. 8 meeting. According to Graber, the district achieved this total by replacing 150 access points and licenses, as well as backup batteries to ensure the network remains intact at all times.
“Infrastructure is everything,” Graber said. “We have all of this on our network and now we need a secure network and a network that can support 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 software antivirus 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 objective of the department is to “ddevelop, test and document a well-structured and easy-to-understand disaster recovery plan.
Currently, the district backs up its data nightly to a third-party server. But “these are small potatoes when it comes to a comprehensive disaster recovery plan,” Graber said.
Neighboring school districts had to spend millions of dollars because of the malware, Graber said. And networks in other districts have been down for weeks or even months after an attack, he said.
Graber and his team therefore plan for the worst: create additional copies of the district’s data, acquire additional servers, study cybersecurity insurance and develop a plan to restore services in the event of an emergency.
“It’s really important from a security perspective to have a really good contingency plan, a disaster recovery plan, in case something happens,” Graber said. “We try to be proactive.
The end goal of the technology department is to provide students with “the ability to connect to 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 families in the district and assess technology needs. This year, all kindergarten, sixth and ninth graders will receive new Chromebooks when they arrive at school, as part of an effort to get new devices into the hands of students, a said Graber.
The technology department will also continue to work with district administrators to plan and roll out digital literacy classes through technical coordinators and computer science teachers, Graber said.