Hi-tech improvements at Fresno Unified

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno Unified has made huge strides in recent years to make the internet accessible to all students and teachers in the classroom. And it started by bringing in a team of experts to get the job done.

When Kurt Madden first signed on as chief technology officer at Fresno Unified - he says the district was identified as the worst in the state for technology. "Students and teachers could not access the internet very well. The speeds in the classroom were slower than dialup speeds."

Fast forward 5 years later - and it was upgraded to "best practice" - meaning other districts now look to Fresno Unified on how to go hi-tech.

Back in 2008 - Madden and his team began building a new data center to expand the district's capabilities. Instead of a 2-thousand square foot facility with 35 servers it now operates in a 200 square foot space with more than 400 servers... allowing the district to do more with less - while - at the same time - saving it about a million dollars a year in energy and manpower.

Madden said, "We needed to get the internet and the resources out to the school, out to the classrooms."

Then came the need for internet and wireless technology. Using millions of dollars in what it calls "federal e-rate funds" - the district installed fiber optic cables to every school - at the time - making it the largest network north of Los Angeles. But Madden says the biggest challenge was launching the Atlas student and parent portal - which allows parents and teachers to track their student's grades, attendance and progress towards graduation.

Madden said, "When we first rolled it out, some wanted this information, that information, some had trouble getting it."

Since then a team of engineers have worked around the clock to fix the glitches - and their getting ready to launch an application for your cell phone in the spring.

"When you use this system, even on your cell phone, you're not looking at day old information," said Eric Tilto. "You're looking at what the teacher put in mere minutes ago."

The district is also gearing up for a pilot program called B-Y-O-D or "bring your own device." It says nowadays kids have at least one device to log online - and it wants to encourage them to use wireless internet on their cell phones, tablets and laptops.

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