A new wireless broadband wide-area network in the Florence Unified School District has teachers and students using faster computers, watching better video conferences and having more technology opportunities available.
The network, which came online in July, connects the district’s six elementary schools and one high school, and provides up to 25 times the speed of the previous network.
The district hosted a technology open house Friday to show off the new network to other school districts, including districts in Benson, Bisbee, Coolidge and Apache Junction.
The Florence district partnered with Austin, Texas-based Trillion, which is providing the network at an annual cost of $212,255. The federal E-rate program, a reimbursement program for technology based on need, paid $123,107 of the cost. The district’s cost is $89,148.
Florence Superintendent Gary Nine said he is excited for the faster, easier technology that will help kids learn more, faster.
“This is like, 'Wow!’ ” Nine said. “Our potential is so great.”
Now, the district can maintain the school’s servers at the district office, instead of driving to each school location, said Nicole Steele, the district’s director of educational technology.
“I used to have to drive 20 miles from the district office, and it would take me 20 minutes to log on to the computer,” Steele said. “Now I can do everything from the district office, and I can log on within 30 seconds.”
With the new network, high school students will have the opportunity to take college classes.
Also, students who work at a more advanced level can take classes with other advanced students from other district schools. Those classes couldn’t be offered before because of staffing issues.
Teachers and students have been taking part in video conferences for about four years. Now, those video conferences have better connections and are easier to watch, without lost calls. Every school will have video conferencing capabilities in January.
New instructional software is also available to teachers this school year, such as for assessment benchmark testing, language programs for English language learners and programs to help students learn what they didn’t know from the AIMS tests.
The district is also saving money by purchasing one set of software and installing it at the district office, instead of multiple sets for each school.
Each classroom now has four to five computers, and computer labs are in each school. Elementary schools and the high school also have a classroom dedicated to video conferencing.