Snohomish School District
Beyond the School Walls
Snohomish School District invests in technology beyond the classroom
There is a quiet little town nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest; one that is home to agriculture, logging, and a percentage of technology professionals who board the Microsoft commuter bus each morning to head to work. It is one of the first inland cities in the Puget Sound region. But as you drive through the sleepy town of Snohomish, with its historic buildings and farmland, you’d probably not expect to find such a high level of technology and innovation, which exists to help the local school district provide education with such efficiency. The Snohomish School District encompasses an area of about 165 square miles and more than 30,000 residents. It serves between 9,500 and 10,200 K-12 students each year.
- The Snohomish School District began implementing Cisco wireless, switching, and voice in 2008, with the help of Cerium Networks.
- Eran Gourarie, Executive Director of Technology for the District, and his project team worked with Cerium to design an IP phone system for The Snohomish Aquatic Center.
- In addition to the IP phone system, Eran worked with Cerium to create a wireless test bed of Meraki for the Snohomish Aquatic Center.
Eran Gourarie is the Executive Director of Technology for the District. After a successful technology career in the private sector, Eran was a teacher for about five years. His training and experience made him a stronger asset to the District in support of their goals as a whole, hence his current position. It’s clear when he speaks that he has immersed himself completely in the mission of his current post. He speaks of test beds, goals, innovations, and success stories, all in support of the District’s core business: education.
“The community passed a bond, in 2008, to upgrade the technology in the District,” says Eran. “Myself, along with a group of teachers and others, discussed the technology and decided on a plan. We spent longer developing the plan than expected. I kept finding out new things that would change our course. For example, first and second graders are really short. What this means is that our interactive boards need to be on tracks that move up and down for K-3 students.”
Eran went on to describe the developing technology and communications needs of the District, and education in general. “Now the requirement is ubiquitous availability anytime, any place, for both teachers and students. Classrooms are no longer within just four walls.”
In 2008, the Snohomish School District began implementing Cisco wireless, switching, and voice, with the help of Cerium Networks. The relationship forged the basis for ongoing collaboration and technology advancements. “Cerium did a Cisco deployment for the schools we rebuilt, and the one we remodeled, as well as one of the new schools. We have about 540 Cisco switches, and approximately 240 are from Cerium. The system is stable. I’m heavily involved in the design for the new schools. Every school was better than the one before. We’ve learned and applied the lessons learned for each new project. Technology was changing as we go. Our Cerium account executive and solution architects helped us hone our vision into an actionable objective, showing us exactly what would deliver that vision.”
The Snohomish Aquatic Center
This requirement for ubiquitous availability extends to the community as a whole. The Snohomish community asked for a rebuild of the Snohomish Aquatic Center, which hosts not only District swim meets and athletic programs, but is also a community recreation asset. The Snohomish Aquatic Center also provides exercise programs, party rentals, and hosts a U.S. Master’s Swimming Team. Understand that the Snohomish community uniquely supports its residents and students with enviable generosity. While many school districts pine for federal funding to manifest technology goals, the Snohomish School District has constructed three new schools, completed teardowns and rebuilds of two others, and has major renovations ongoing in another school. Additionally, the District has some of the best technology innovations to offer. All of this is due to a community which routinely approves bonds to provide the best in educational tools for its own.
Eran and his project team worked with Cerium to design an IP phone system to meet the goals for The Snohomish Aquatic Center. The system needed to stand alone for two reasons:
During summer, the District brings down the entire network/phone system for the schools for maintenance, but the pool is still open to the public.
The District could not provide comprehensive support for the IP phone system since the Snohomish Aquatic Center is a public recreation site in operation year-round.
“I could get an IP phone system from numerous vendors, in the same or lower price range, but I got an IP phone system installed and maintained with a three-year relationship. That relationship is what I bought,” says Eran. “Cerium understands what I want. The system functions needed to be the type that are configured by the user—i.e. Operations Manager and System Administrator—so they can add/remove mailboxes, change lines, etc. If they haven’t done something in a year, they can call Cerium to walk them through it without having to go through the District.”
Since the Snohomish Aquatic Center is smaller than the District system and is a stand-alone system, Cerium recommended an Avaya solution. The Avaya IP phone system is a nice fit for the Snohomish Aquatic Center, with expansion options.
The Snohomish Aquatic Center is built where the District used to have a campus. The site still includes a large gymnasium and a large stage area. The phone system, by design and intention, can grow into this space should the Snohomish community wish to build usage into those areas.
As construction schedules of the Snohomish Aquatic Center allowed, Cerium installed a new Avaya IP phone system, which included a three-year maintenance agreement.
The Meraki Wireless Test Bed
In addition to the IP phone system, Eran worked with Cerium to create a hot testbed of Meraki for the Snohomish Aquatic Center. He describes the Wi-Fi environment as very agile. “We have free public Wi-Fi at the Snohomish Aquatic Center, called AquaFi. During swim meets, our users go from 0 to 400 in a flash, so we have huge fluctuations. For this hot test bed, I wanted to test it for monitoring, adjusting etc. It’s a cloud-based application. Networking SaaS is a good model for school districts. When there are upgrades, we don’t have to make internal hardware changes. It’s networking by software.”
Two great benefits of the Meraki solution for educational entities are that the Meraki solution is a leased service, therefore it is eligible for eRate (a benefit and requirement for some educational entities); and, as changes in technology and devices occur, the changes from Meraki are instant. “This [leased, cloud-based system] is how ‘not to get stuck’ with something,” says Eran.
The Meraki system has built-in web filtering systems, which is a requirement for school systems. Because the system is a standalone, the District can bring school systems down without bringing down communications at the Snohomish Aquatic Center.
Developing Innovation — The Mobile Library
From the Meraki hot test bed at The Snohomish Aquatic Center, innovation has blossomed in the district. Eran always has an eye on the future of communications and technology, and now he can capitalize on technologies that will enhance student learning. He describes one such innovation: “We have a lunch bus which travels during the summer, to some of our areas of lower income. We provide a hot lunch to children in these communities both at school and during the summer, 52 weeks a year.”
“A couple years ago, one of our librarians wanted to do the same thing with reading. She got a small grant, bought books and would follow the kids’ café van around. The kids would pick up a book and get a meal. So, I said to her, ‘giving them books is like giving them fish. Let’s teach them how to fish. Let’s send a librarian around.’”
From the lunch bus concept, the mobile library was launched. Eran explains that the need for Meraki on the mobile library bus accommodates the nature of today’s libraries to provide e-books, audiobooks, and internet resources to patrons. By making these services available to communities that would otherwise not have this access, the District is taking steps to keep these students from falling behind their peers during the off seasons. “Kids should be able to BYOD and download an e-book or audio. If you have a bunch of kids that don’t exercise their minds all summer, they are behind in September.”
Going forward, Eran expects to equip the library bus with stationary computers.
The library bus is a test bed in itself, for longer bus routes on which Eran would like to implement wireless access.
The mobile library has Meraki MX60 installed, which allows students to download e-books to their smartphones. Eran is manifesting a vision that was born from the Meraki hot test bed at the Snohomish Aquatic Center. It began with the mobile library, but now he has a vision for greater applications of Meraki technologies. “I’m doing a technical pilot and proof of concept using Meraki MX60 on longer bus routes. The proof of concept test is ‘how much is this going to cost us in bandwidth?’”
Eran wants to test the feasibility of putting Meraki MX60 on the buses, starting with the sports buses. “Some of the routes are 1.5 hours one way. I’m able to quickly get a list of teachers and their students [who are on that bus], and they can have alterations in how homework is assigned or have special assignments, or coaches can hold pre-game strategy meetings. As I’m watching the Meraki system at the Snohomish Aquatic Center and talking with my technicians, it’s definitely a viable option when I start thinking about the library program and long bus rides.”
It is clear this organic vision will have heterogeneous manifestations, which will serve the community, support the mission of the Snohomish School District, and establish a benchmark for other communities to follow.
Project Management & Customer Relationships
Eran attributes the successful relationship between Cerium Networks and the Snohomish School District to the people at Cerium. “We know what we want in our technology solutions, but Matthew also feels comfortable showing us what we need. My engineers talk to Cerium engineers, and Amy, our Cerium Project Manager, knows our standards and how we work. She understands we have an approval process for decisions, and she understands this process and can manage it. She was very successful managing the Avaya and Meraki implementations at the Snohomish Aquatic Center around the constraints and challenges of a construction schedule. I always ask for her on projects because of this.”
Technology is a mechanism for how we do our core business which is learning.
— Eran Gourarie, Executive Director of Technology
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