The Center for Digital Education (CDE) announced this week that Rome City Schools ranks in the Top 10 in a survey conducted nationwide.

In the Mid-sized Student Population Districts Category—schools serving between 3,000 and 12,000 students—RCS placed 2nd overall. This survey recognizes those systems that provide a high level of tech services and support to their faculty, parents and students, helping them to stay connected to the latest tools used for technology-based learning.

“To qualify for this award, the Center for Digital Education sends out a survey and our team spends two to three solid weeks gathering information. We develop a list of things we are doing that are new to the industry and things we are doing on our own to strengthen our program,” said Matt Stover, Director of Technology and Network Services for Rome City Schools. “We collect data on what our schools do that stand out, as well. Some of those areas, such as investments in virtual reality and virtual field trip systems, 3D printing integration and other innovative ways of using technology, are submitted to the survey.”

“However, the survey is not just for technology in the classroom or for what the teacher uses,” Stover continued. “The CDE takes the small things, like if the Board Members are accessible via email to the public or if the RCS Board’s goals and strategic plans are made public. These items must be easily accessed using technology.”

Stover went on to say that the redundancy and resiliency of the infrastructure is a heavy focus for the CDE. The goal is to reduce downtime and respond to tech problems as quickly as possible. “Just about everything that is technology based uses the internet in some way, so without those redundancies, one small problem could disconnect an entire school or even the district as a whole from the network. Our team uses an old rule of thumb in the tech industry and it is called the ‘Beach in Barbados’ method. We want to build the network infrastructure to the best of our ability, so that if we are ever on the beach in Barbados, if one thing fails we are okay and the network as whole will be fine.”

How the RCS Technology Team builds their infrastructure was also a large part of their high national ranking among school system that provide technology in the classrooms. The idea is to provide a system that is almost never offline when parents, students and teachers need it most.

“We approach the network with the industry standard of ‘Five-Nines Uptime’. This means that 99.999 percent of the time, our network is available. We try to only use scheduled off-hours maintenance periods to address challenges requiring us to shut the network down,” he said.

Stover and his team conduct a yearly customer service survey to gauge their effectiveness and find ways to better serve the school system. Things like one-to-one—meaning each student has a device to use in the classroom—has been a major milestone for RCS. Stover is happy to say that they have accomplished this goal and they are looking to enhance the experience for all Rome City students, even outside of the classroom.

“We have about 2000 of our Chromebooks that are going home with students every day. This has presented the challenge of researching methods for providing internet access for families who may not have access to the internet at home. We are working on grants that would help us acquire cellular hotspots that plug into the Chromebook. These devices could be checked out, much like a library book. We are also looking into collaborating with local businesses and religious organizations to provide Wi-Fi hotspots for RCS devices in areas we think would benefit most. We would put the equipment in and broadcast the signal, and they wouldn’t have to do anything. All we would need is the space on the building,” Stover explained.

As Rome City Schools grows, so does the demand for quality tech support. Stover said that he welcomes the challenge. “I’ve worked in the private sector and I’ve been able to observe the weaknesses and oversight in other organizations that, fortunately, we have been able to overcome successfully. I get up every morning and I am happy to come to work, because Rome City Schools is investing in providing quality technology, infrastructure and support on top of our quality academics, athletics and arts. I feel confident in our team’s ability to do the job because of how much we have accomplished and evolved over the last 4 years.”