Network Upgrade Spearheads 21st Century Learning. Appalachian Mountain School District, NC

Solution: Cisco Switches and Wireless Access Points


  • Assessed requirements
  • Identified best technology
  •  Access Points upgrade to meet one-to-one goals
  • Switch upgrade positioned the district to have ample capacity for several years to come

Network Upgrade Spearheads 21st Century Learning.

  • Industry: K-12 Education
  • |
  • Location: Appalachian Mountains

Client Snapshot: The school district decided in 2007 to take a leadership position in the state for technology enabled education. They knew they needed to start with the network and called NWN in to help them architect and implement the right solution.


The district is nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Serving just under 10,000 students in PreKindergarten through graduation across approximately twenty schools, this school district is a leader in its State for 21st centruy learning, enabling technology in their classrooms – but it wasn’t always that way.

In 2007, a school board member had read an article on education in third world countries. The board member was amazed at just how much technology was playing a role and wondered out loud — if they could do it there, couldn’t it be done at our school too? Unanimously, the Leadership team set the goal for expanded use of technology in its classrooms, and more specifically, establishing a 1:1 (student to computing device) environment starting with the 6th grade.

At the time, the use of technology was very limited, and the network was a small patchwork of hubs from various manufacturers. The Chief Technology Officer remembers that at the time there was just one managed switch in an environment that consisted of multiple elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. He knew immediately he needed to get the infrastructure straight, and that any updates had to start with the network. Ultimately he would decide to phase out the implementation and apply for ERate funding.


NWN had recently engaged with the district on an unrelated requirement, but with the new directive, the discussion quickly turned to architecting the optimal network to support the 1:1 goal across all district school locations. NWN’s solution architect, Michael Hansil, sat down with district officials to fully map out both the immediate and long-term network requirements. With the understanding that a substantial amount of the funding would need to be generated through the ERate program, a phase approach would be needed. The first phase would include four middle schools and two elementary schools. NWN’s proposed solution would need to address the first phase requirements, be easily repeated in future phases, and provide a consistent platform across the district for ease of use and management.

NWN proposed a scalable solution standardized around Cisco switching and wireless access points (AP), initially in every other classroom. The solution also built in the flexibility to upgrade to the latest technology as each phase was implemented. More specifically, the first phase included Cisco’s Catalyst 4500 series switches. The second phase would move to Cisco 3750 Series Switches (with IP services for the Core). By the third phase, Cisco 3850 Series Fixed GE access switches would be used along with access points.

The prescribed implementation included a repeatable three step process. First, old equipment would be un-racked. Second, a complete rewiring with Cat6 Ethernet Cabling would occur. Third, was to cut-over new platforms to the new cabling and AP installation. The process also included a unique element to assure a rapid cross-over. NWN would pre-configure all of the switches off-site, prior to putting them into place, allowing for what was a large project to be implemented in just one to two days with limited disruption.

In all, 20 schools including two new ones, would be upgraded over multiple phases. Approximately eight years later, all the goals set forth in 2007 have been met. The CTO is now circling back on some of the first phase schools to update technology where it’s required.


As a result of the network strategy NWN proposed and executed, the district achieved its ultimate goal of a 1:1 technology-student relationship for grades 6 through 12, and a goal of 1:2 for grades PK5. And in eight short years, the district has completely transformed the way teachers teach and students learn.

First and foremost, the district met its goals for updating the network infrastructure and putting in place at least one access point per classroom. According to the CTO, the results are “beyond one-toone.” Bandwidth is up to 1GB and now attention is being turned to better use of that bandwidth. The technology put in place eight years ago is still exceeding the demand. More importantly, they can easily upgrade and scale the technology as demand continues to increase.

With the new technology, the district has been able to transform
the  way that it teaches. Each student is provided with a laptop that is theirs to use in school and at home, with 100% of those computers having internet access. They have also implemented a Learning Management System (LMS), used and ‘built’ by the teachers, where students can log into the digital classroom do work and hand it in — all electronically. Drop-out rates have decreased and graduation rates have increased in close correlation with the adoption of technology. The district has one of the highest productivity rankings in the state, and close to 90% of high school seniors have life plans that include continued education.

The architecture proposed has lived up to its promise of resiliency and scalability. The staging of switches offsite has allowed for rapid, trouble-free cut-overs time and again. And throughout the process, NWN and the district have developed an extremely strong working relationship – there together, as a team, for eight years bringing what was a vision into sharp reality.

The district has also gained the experience and the confidence which comes from rolling out a complex project that includes a large number of devices, across multiple phases, in what is truly a short period of time.

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