At this Nebraska district, CloudReady offers a solution for budget woes coupled with the need for digital testing
To say that Alton Archibald wears several hats in his role at Gordon-Rushville Public Schools would be an understatement. Officially, he’s the Technology Director, but as a self-described one-man show, Archibald also acts as the technology support team, handling hardware and managing networks. In his spare time, he’s the assistant wrestling coach, and, as he laughed ruefully, “I even have my hands in the HVAC system.”
Located in northwest Nebraska, Gordon-Rushville is a consolidated district spanning 2300 square miles. One 9-12 high school, a 6-8 middle school, and two K-5 elementary schools service approximately 700 students. Due to the high poverty rate and its location bordering a socio-economically impacted area, most of Gordon-Rushville’s technology plans and decisions are dictated by cost.
A budget crunch thwarts progress
That was the impetus behind the district’s early adoption of GSuite for Education. “I was looking for an email solution, but had no money or budget,” Archibald said. “I tried several other solutions that were free, but since this came out, it’s been amazing.”
At that time, the district was using older Dell PCs and laptops running Windows XP in the high school and middle school, along with older Macs in the elementary schools. There were several mobile carts and the rest were set up in labs, with the majority of the computers used for testing.
“Assessment was the driving force for adding more and more computers to the district,” Archibald noted.
A budget crunch thwarted that progress for a time, but in 2010, the district purchased 160 MacBooks via an Apple loan. Still, though, Archibald was intent on finding budget- friendly solutions for the district. “Budget’s a big issue out here,” he said flatly. “There’s no state aid currently. We’re funded by taxes and we’re an Ag community, so I’m trying to keep costs down.”
The move to Chrome
That focus on maximizing value led Archibald to Chromebooks, which promised low cost, easy management and low overhead for maintenance. “Chromebooks came out and we piloted 20 of them. They ran pretty well, so we started adding them, and we’ve been adding about 80 per year,” Archibald explained. “As Google Apps and Management started to come into play, it’s lessened my workload a lot in getting computers ready for the next school year.”
Over the last few years, Archibald has upgraded the district’s network, run WiFi throughout it, and in the process has gradually moved students from MacBooks to Chromebooks. Gordon-Rushville currently has a ratio of roughly 1 Chromebook for every 1.5 students.
“One of our challenges is that the mobility rate in our school district is pretty high,” Archibald said. “A lot of families only have internet on their phones, so issuing one-to-one and sending students home with computers is not on our list to do. Our model is we’ll have more devices than we need, but it’ll be a lab or cart in each classroom. The kids still have access to everything they need, but we don’t risk the loss that we can’t afford.”
A new challenge: Digital testing
An additional challenge arose when the continued push toward digital testing proved too much for the district’s 160 MacBooks. “Everything wants to use the Chrome browser, and with these MacBooks, you can’t load anything more than (OS X) 10.8 without them struggling,” Archibald explained.
In April 2016, Google discontinued Chrome updates and security fixes for the OS X 10.8 platform as well as Windows XP and Vista.
“I had to come up with a solution, because Chrome was no longer supported and we couldn’t do testing on them, so that’s when I started looking around,” Archibald said. “I didn’t have money to replace those 160 MacBooks, so that’s when I found CloudReady online.”
Archibald trialed CloudReady and discovered that by loading CloudReady on the MacBooks, Gordon-Rushville could continue using them for assessment as well as in the classroom. Now, when they’re not being used for assessment, the CloudReady devices are used to run Google Classroom, Moodle, and GSuite for Education. According to Archibald, the students see no difference between the CloudReady devices and the Chromebooks the district owns.
“It’s basically helped make those devices usable. It’s saved the district money. I couldn’t afford to replace those machines right away...that was number one. Now it’s safe for these devices to be back online.”
Asked what results he’s seen from using CloudReady, Archibald is blunt in listing them: “It’s basically helped make those devices usable. It’s saved the district money. I couldn’t afford to replace those machines right away...that was number one. Now it’s safe for these devices to be back online. I’m not running multiple platforms; everything is basically the same operating system. Since we’re a Google Apps school, it streamlines everything.”
Archibald’s goal is to continue what’s he been doing—adding Chromebooks a few at a time, and working toward the threshold of every classroom having a Chromebook cart for students to use. Should more budget cuts hamper that goal, he’s prepared to be creative. “There’s a possibility that our budget could be cut quite a bit, so then I need to come up with solutions,” he said. “Could I afford to buy brand new Chromebooks? Or could I find some older devices that I could run CloudReady on? If I could find a $50 device and keep the licensing, I might have to go that route versus spending $200 on Chromebooks.
“It’s helped our district a lot, going this route,” he continued. “And bottom line, when it comes down to it, it’s about what’s the best devices and best solution I can get for our money.”
So while the future may be uncertain, on one point, Archibald is clear: “There’s no way I’m going to go back to Windows.”
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- Windows XP