Bedford County School District in Shelbyville, TN, is a medium-sized K-12 school district serving approximately 8,600 students and supporting 1,100+ employees across 16 schools.
Leveraging ENA’s solutions since the early 2000s, Bedford County Schools is putting on a masterclass of how school districts of all sizes can partner with trusted service providers to build scalable, reliable, and enterprise-grade infrastructures that enable and prioritize student-centered learning.
The Need for (Connectivity) Speed
Although connectivity has been important in K-12 education for decades, the recent explosion of 1:1 devices combined with the digitization of operational and communication systems has turned education networks into bandwidth-hungry beasts – emphasizing the need for schools to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to their broadband.
Bedford County Schools joined ENA’s Internet access data network in the early 2000s, and since then has continually upgraded and invested in their Layer 3 ENA WAN network infrastructure, taking advantage of high-speed dark fiber with future-ready, multi-gig connections across the district.
Ryan Womack, Director of Technology at Bedford County Schools, explains why his district has continued to invest so heavily in broadband over the years.
“Technology is rapidly evolving, and the bottom line is if you’re not investing in your infrastructure, then you’re risking not being able to support teachers and students with the bandwidth they need for their daily activities.”
Over the past year and a half, Womack overhauled more than half of the district’s network to deliver better in-classroom technologies and end user capabilities, including purchasing and deploying 7,500+ laptops – at zero cost to the district – and installing 250+ interactive touchscreen panels for teachers.
With so many new devices, having a scalable infrastructure in place was critical to the initiative’s success. Having seen firsthand the problems that can arise when new devices – and their bandwidth consumption – aren’t accounted for in the network strategy, Womack is a huge advocate of proactively investing in bandwidth upgrades to future-proof networks with easy and instant scalability.
“Every new student means a new device, and every new device requires additional bandwidth to properly support that student’s learning. To ensure end users have a seamless, high-speed connection, you need to proactively anticipate and invest for those bandwidth needs,” he explained. “None of the device upgrades matter unless the internal backbone is strong and fortified.”
Expect the Unexpected
Unforeseen events like natural disasters, pandemics, and other scenarios can cause major disruptions to school operations, so every school district needs to be prepared with the right tools should a crisis arise. Knowing the importance of planning for the unexpected, Womack added a dual WAN circuit through ENA – which adds another WAN service and underlying Internet service provider to the network – to ensure operational continuity.
“Our dual WAN service enables us to ensure an event with one underlying Internet carrier doesn’t cause downtime or affect our ability to deliver connectivity to our schools.”
Fortifying Cyber Defenses
With so many new devices on the network, protecting them against online threats is a top priority. Bedford County Schools uses ENA NetDefender and ENA NetShield UTM to proactively mitigate and prevent detrimental and costly cyber threats like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
“It’s better to be at the front end instead of waiting for cybersecurity attacks to happen to you. We’ve seen many school districts get hit hard, so a proactive approach helps protect everyone,” he said. “With ENA’s hosted firewall, unified threat management, and DDoS protection, our students can come into the classroom, get on their devices, and be safe.”
But even with tools in place, cybersecurity is never “set it and forget it”, Womack warns. “Cybersecurity is a conversation I’m having every single year because of the ever-changing threat landscape. As an IT director, it’s one of those efforts you must make time for to ensure you’re not falling behind.”
Staying Connected With Cloud Communications
A very early adopter of voice over IP (VoIP), Bedford County Schools has been using ENA’s cloud VoIP phone system – ENA SmartVoice – for over 10 years to keep district leadership, staff, and parents connected. Having managed site-based phone systems in the past, Womack notes the difference between on-premises and hosted is night and day.
“Every day I am thankful for our hosted phone system. We don’t have to worry about day-to-day management because ENA provides proactive maintenance, upgrades our software and servers, delivers ongoing technical support, and more,” Womack said. “It’s one less thing on our plate.”
Outside of the occasional voicemail pin reset and extension switch, Womack says the only phone system tasks his team manages are adding new users and fixing handsets when needed. Additionally, with teachers and staff becoming more mobilized, the district is looking at adding ENA’s mobile app for administrators – which enables users to take their work phone extension with them on their personal devices – as well as evaluating ENA’s Microsoft Teams integration to further enhance collaboration.
Unparalleled Customer Support, At Your Service
With K-12 IT teams in charge of overseeing a staggering number of systems, devices, data, compliance, and networks, vendor response time and quality of technical support can be the difference between smooth sailing and catastrophe – especially for lean IT teams who rely on managed services. Having experienced unhelpful support from vendors in the past, Womack has found ENA’s high-touch and 100% US-based, live customer technical assistance center (CTAC) incredibly valuable and unmatched.
“ENA’s support is fantastic. Our underlying carriers can’t even come close to touching what ENA does for us,” he said.
“It just takes one call to the CTAC and within minutes high-level engineers are helping us troubleshoot and resolve issues. ENA acts as an extension of our technology team – that doesn’t happen with other vendors.”
Student-Centered Digital Transformation
Nearing the finish line of achieving the district’s 1:1 initiative, Womack is proud of the student-centered digital transformation efforts his district and team have been able to accomplish in such a short time.
When asked what advice he would give to districts who are looking to carry out similar projects, but don’t know where to start, Womack advised: “Do your research, reach out to other technology directors around you, and leverage your technology vendors and partners. There are so many ways to find resources to take care of your district, even when you’re tight on funds.”