NC charter schools get broadband

13 North Carolina charter schools are now receiving high-speed connectivity and services on the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN).

All 115 K-12 public school districts in North Carolina were connected to NCREN in May 2009 under the North Carolina School Connectivity Initiative (SCI). North Carolina charter schools also were eligible to be connected to NCREN through the initiative either through a complete turnkey connection or to continue being responsible for part of the connection arrangements themselves.
Each charter school connected to NCREN receives the same quality broadband connections, equipment, and support as the school districts that already are connected.

This year will be the first full fiscal year of charter school participation on NCREN.

The schools currently participating include: Children's Community School of Davidson; Charter Day School; Evergreen Charter School; Hawbridge School; Francine Delany; Magellan Charter School; American Renaissance School; Bethel Hill School; Lake Norman Charter School; Mountain Island Charter School; Piedmont Community Charter School; Union Academy; and Voyager Academy.

Voyager Academy currently has 600 students on two campuses in Durham and was the first charter school connected to NCREN in August 2007. Cory Draughon, high school principal, said a high school campus currently is under construction which will bring Voyager's total enrollment to 900 students – all of whom will have high-speed connectivity through NCREN to use remote desktops, 1:1 laptops, and other high-demand applications.

"Our confidence in NCREN makes connectivity an after-thought," Draughon said." We never worry about it because we know it’s there and running at the highest level; which allows us to focus on building the proper infrastructure and educational content to benefit all our students.”

Charter schools last year served about 38,000 students, less than 3 percent of the state's students. According to reports, as many as 20,000 students are on waiting lists at the state's 99 charter schools, and the limit on the number of these independent schools may increase in 2011 after going unchanged for more than a decade.

Union Academy in Monroe was the fourth charter school connected to NCREN and the first with two campuses. Celest O'Brien, IT Director for Union Academy, said they have more than 1,100 students between the two campuses and faced a significant bottleneck on their network before being connected to NCREN.

“The 21st century tools and media-rich technology that we worked so hard to obtain and integrate for high academic achievement over the last five years really became difficult to operate because of bandwidth and network limitations,” O’Brien said. “Through the School Connectivity Initiative, we were able to connect to NCREN and efficiently operate these tools at necessary speeds. But, it is more than just connectivity. The network assistance and support provided by MCNC’s Client Network Engineers adds great value to our small staff. I recommend other schools take advantage of NCREN as well as the additional services MCNC has to offer.”

MCNC is the independent, non-profit organization that operates NCREN. The company was initially funded by the North Carolina State Government in 1980 as a catalyst for technology-based economic development. MCNC currently is working on a $146 million expansion of NCREN, expected to be complete by 2013.

The SCI provides local school districts and charter schools with the connectivity to NCREN, and through NCREN, to the commercial Internet and advanced research networks, Internet2, and National Lambda Rail.

The implementation of this work was achieved through collaboration among the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, e-NC Authority, N.C. Office of Information Technology Services, the Friday Institute, and private-sector service providers including AT&T, TimeWarner Cable, Embarq, Frontier, and DukeNet.