Escambia County School District

Aruba Gigabit Wi-Fi enables student-centered learning success.

Digital learning promises to help the students grasp concepts faster and engage in learning more readily. But new and better ways of learning don’t work without pervasive Wi-Fi, and delivering that wireless utility is a top priority for Jim Branton.

“We couldn’t consider putting a device in every student’s hands and making it an integral part of the curriculum until we were certain that the wireless network was reliable,” says Branton, Technology Services Coordinator for Escambia County School District in Florida. “Wireless access is as essential to teaching as electricity.”

Gigabit Wi-Fi is a Prerequisite for Digital Learning

The primary benefit of having an Aruba network is that it just works. Jim Branton, Technology Services Coordinator, Escambia County School District

Escambia County, located in the Florida Panhandle and home to Pensacola, embarked on a mission of student-centered learning, called Vision 2020, for its 43,000 students.

“We started on this journey two years ago,” says Tom Ingram, Director of IT at Escambia County School District. “Vision 2020 is not a technology initiative, but we’re using technology to enable that transformation.”

Vision 2020 is built on the premise that learning happens anywhere, anytime. Elementary, middle, and high school students were given Chromebooks for a 1:1 learning experience. Teachers have a broad set of digital tools to personalize learning for students’ individual learning styles, abilities and interests.

Aruba Aces Wi-Fi

To meet the demands of a 1:1 learning environment, Escambia County School District upgraded its Wi-Fi. Every classroom has an Aruba 802.11ac access point (AP), which is connected back to Aruba’s Mobility Access Switches and 7200 Series Mobility Controllers. The district has more than 3,600 access points, 300 access switches and 50 controllers. The district also uses Aruba’s vendor-agnostic management tool AirWave, for optimizing Wi-Fi experiences.

“The primary benefit of having an Aruba network is that it just works,” says Branton.

Tapping into E-Rate funding allowed the district to accelerate its upgrade plans, cutting a five- to seven-year project down to 18 months.

AirWave streamlines management

A seven-person team keeps the network operating for 35 elementary schools, nine middle schools, seven high schools and specialized centers across a 154-square mile county. Enterprise-grade reliability and operational efficiency is essential.

The district uses AirWave to proactively monitor the health and performance of all things connected to the network, providing IT with the insights they need to support students’ personalized, digital learning. AirWave provides granular visibility across the wired and wireless access infrastructure, including and visibility into the performance and usage of mobile apps.

A Reliable Network Supports Personalized Learning

“Student are thrilled to have a device to call their own,” says Branton.

Students, teachers and staff use Chromebooks, iPads, Windows and Mac laptops in classrooms and flexible learning spaces. Students and staff may use their personal mobile devices as well. Some schools also have wireless IP phones and IP video surveillance cameras.


Digital learning tools include Google Classroom, YouTube and other streaming media, math applications, adaptive technology, and much more. Google Expeditions lets teachers take students on immersive, virtual field trips. Kids use Minecraft and OpenSim to learn modeling and simulation.

The district is expanding its digital toolset to make it easier for students to search for content, to create comprehensive learner profiles, better calendaring and analytics to recommend future learning opportunities.

Accelerating student progress

A focus on student-centered learning is bearing results. Overall, the third-grade language arts scores on state assessment rose to 59 percent in 2017, up from 51 percent in 2016.

“The ability to communicate with students in new ways has converted even some of the tech-dubious among our faculty,” says Branton. “Students that may struggle with traditional assignments are finding their voice through video projects or slide shows or any number of methods.”

Language and music teachers can evaluate recordings made by students rather than impact class and teaching time. Adaptive technology for kids with learning differences has made a big difference, with read-along technologies improving reading comprehension.

A Collaborative Relationship


Escambia County School District has had strong partners in Aruba and Technology Integration Group (TIG), its IT solution partner.

“We have been Aruba customers for over 10 years,” says Branton. “At the time we started, Aruba was the only solution that could provide cost-effective, managed connectivity to our portable classrooms. Aruba consistently delivered a reliable, high-performing platform that we can depend upon for the day-to-day needs of our students, faculty and staff.”

“TIG has been an instrumental partner for the school district,” says Ingram. “Their engineering has helped design, implement and maintain the network.”

Next Steps

In a high-poverty school district like Escambia County, student-centered learning is bringing digital equity. Based on success, the digital learning program will be expanded to all students in grades 3 through 12 for the 2017-2018 school year.

As the network supports more applications, more devices, and more users, the IT team can continue to depend on wireless as a utility. The team plans to upgrade to Aruba OS8 over the summer for even greater reliability and functionality, and also plans to implement single sign-on to simplify wireless access for students, teachers and staff and strengthen security.