Email breakdowns may be a thing of the past at Riverside Elementary School District 96.

Last week the district mostly completed a changeover to a cloud-based email service, Microsoft 365, replacing its antiquated and problem-plagued Apple email service. Email breakdowns were increasingly frequent under the old system, frustrating staff and parents alike.

The email upgrade is a precursor to a major technological upgrade that the district hopes to have in place when students return from winter break in January.

At their Oct. 16 meeting, the District 96 Board of Education unanimously approved upgrading its current cable-based Internet connections to a high-speed, fiber-optic Wide Area Network (WAN) run by its Internet provider, Comcast.

The fiber-optic WAN will result in vastly faster connections to the Internet. While the current cable connection maxes out at 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 megabits per second for uploads, the new system will allow for 1,000 megabits per second uploads and downloads.

“It gives us a much bigger pipe out to the Internet,” said Don Tufano, the district’s director of innovation and instructional technology.

Restraints currently in place because of limited bandwidth will be lifted.

 “There are some resources that students are told not to access, because they put such a drain on bandwidth,” Tufano said. “So currently we don’t use any streaming video services, and I believe students are instructed not to access Google Earth because it is bandwidth intensive. Those types of restrictions would be lifted and teachers should feel free to use whatever resource is necessary to assist with daily instruction.”

The district has four separate connections to the Internet — at Ames School, Blythe Park School, Hollywood School, and the Central/Hauser campus. Each building has its own servers and the hardware mostly does not “talk” to each other.

Under the new system, the entire district will use just one superfast connection to the Internet.

“Currently we don’t have a Wide Area Network, so our buildings are essentially silos,” Tufano said. “What this will allow us to do is have all of our sites talk to one another. We can also better secure what goes in and out of our network.”

Of course, the new speed will come at a cost. The district will pay Comcast approximately $3,720 a month for the new fiber-optic WAN compared to the $919.40 it paid previously for cable connections. 

However, teachers and students should experience a lot less frustration trying to connect to the Internet.

The agreement with Comcast is much like a five-year deal that the district considered last spring. However, the agreement that the board will adopt will include a new opt-out clause after three years and eliminates automatic renewal.

The decision to go with Comcast was supported by the district’s Technology Steering Committee, which was made up of six community members with backgrounds and experience in technology.

The district plans to continue to move more of its technology infrastructure toward cloud-based solutions.

Upgrading technology infrastructure is a continuing process, Tufano said. The next target for upgrade is the district’s wireless infrastructure, which Tufano said will turn into the district’s newest bottleneck. 

“It’s not archaic, but it is older,” Tufano said.