Elk Grove Goes for Voice, Video and Data in Every Classroom

Technology: Enhancements require standards for effective implementation.

Charles Burns, Elk Grove Unified School District

In April of 1994 when our superintendent asked me "... what would it take to put a phone in every classroom?", I thought it was pretty much a rhetorical question. With the aid of some previous experience with putting phones and data cabling in entire sites before, we set about to estimate the job. Within a couple of months we came up with $3.5 million. I went back to our superintendent with this number, fully expecting to get laughed out of the office. What I got was the opportunity to sell the project to his cabinet, the district's finance committee and finally the board of education. They all bought it, and now we have to deliver.

Due to our bond election passing in 1986 and the subsequent recession, construction costs were less than anticipated. There's enough left over to fund this project and a few others. In November of 1994, the left over bonds were sold and now the money is "in the bank". The most recent experience we had with this was our Classroom Teacher Support System (CTSS) which completely networked one year round middle school and put a mixture of Macintosh and Windows PCs in each classroom. We provided electronic mail, mainframe access (for attendance), grade reporting and "works" software for every teacher. This project provided us with a successful model for the rest of the school district. The last 3 schools constructed which were opened last fall all have the same setup, a fiber optic backbone with twisted pair to each room and office.

Even with this level of experience, we felt uncomfortable just going out and spending $3.5 million without at least checking with our user community. Consequently, we drafted our "Telecommunications Standard" which defines all the wire services that we plan to deliver to each classroom and office. Such things as voice mail, Internet access, mainframe access, cable television and interactive distance learning are all covered in this standard. This document went before technology committees, principals' councils and the superintendent's cabinet, revised at each step. We are now confident that we will be delivering the appropriate technologies with the money allocated.

The next thing we had to do was come up with a schedule. We were forced into a maximum time fame of 36 months by the bond sale rules. Since we have 33 schools to retrofit, this means starting one every month and an average expenditure rate of $100,000 per month, easy to do, but not easy to do correctly. We came up with a "point system" that assigned a certain number of points to each school in each of several categories. The categories were things like "Cost to maintain existing phone system", "Capacity of existing system", "Network Hub", etc. With this fairly objective scheduling, it was pretty easy to get our principals to accept our proposal. We did make some adjustments based on "security". Some of our schools feel strongly about getting phones into classrooms so that teachers working outside normal school hours would have a way to call 911 in case of emergency.

We have just completed the engineering on our first retrofit school and the job is now out to bid. Engineering of the second school has begun and it looks like we're going to have to do multiple schools simultaneously, just to meet our established schedule. It's going to be a long three years.

We have copies of our Telecommunications Standard, Acceptable Use Policy, Engineering Specifications model and other documents available if anyone is interested. They're online at http://www.egusd.k12.ca.us for Internet users; others can give me a call at 916-686-7710 if you're interested in receiving a copy.

Charles Burns is Director, Information Systems for Elk Grove Unified School District and a former CEDPA Director.