Located in Western Connecticut, Shelton Public Schools operates four K–4 elementary schools, one upper elementary school, one intermediate school and one high school. Over the years, the city of Shelton has changed from a manufacturing community on the banks of the Housatonic River to a prominent professional and high-tech center along New England's Route 8 corridor. As a result of this shift, the school district boasts a great deal of socioeconomic diversity in its student body.
Shelton Public Schools faced an enormous feat: Level the educational playing field for students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds while moving toward an environment where web-based and Windows-friendly applications can work together. Rather than continue to invest thousands of dollars in high-priced laptops, the school district needed a cost-effective alternative that would provide teachers and students with access to Google Apps for Education, a free online suite of productivity tools for classroom collaboration, as well as support differentiated learning in the classroom. At the same time, the solution needed to offer the familiarity of a Windows-based operating system and remote access to applications such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
Together with Platinum Citrix Solution Advisor, Gotham Technology Group, Shelton Public Schools found a way to completely transform what it was able to offer its teachers and students on a limited budget. Today, Shelton Public Schools relies on 443 Citrix XenApp licenses and 600 Google Chromebook laptops. By running XenApp, which fully supports Google Chromebook devices as endpoints, the school district now provides its teachers and students with access to everything from Google Drive to Microsoft Office. For instance, if students wish to switch from Google Docs to Microsoft Excel, they can simply log into XenApp and pull up a Windows-based desktop for a seamless transition.
"Although teachers and students were adapting to the Google Chrome operating system, they still missed the familiarity of a Windows-based operating system," says Daniel DiVito, director of technology at Shelton Public Schools. "That's where XenApp comes into play. By partnering up with both Chrome and XenApp, teachers and students can toggle back and forth."
The technology partnership also allows students to access documents and complete homework assignments from a remote location, such as a café or a study partner's living room, using school-issued Google Chromebook laptops or their own devices. That's particularly beneficial because not all students can afford to purchase expensive new devices or costly applications such as Microsoft Office for their personal use. A web interface connects with Citrix NetScaler App Delivery Controller so that a student can access any Windows-based app residing on the school district's XenApp server.
Shelton Public Schools also enhanced its learning environment with the introduction of Google Chromebox, a desktop version of the Chromebook computer. By placing these devices in the back of a classroom, the district can accommodate differentiated instruction in which each student is provided with their own individual avenues for learning.
Shelton Public Schools' decision to purchase 600 Chromebook devices for around $200 each represents a significant savings in hardware because regular laptops can cost as much as $1,000 each and need to be refreshed every five years or so. In addition, by implementing Citrix XenApp, DiVito estimates the school district has saved a staggering $1.25 million in technology costs over the past 10 years and will continue to save $120,000 a year in capital investments.
The triumvirate of XenApp, Google Chromebook laptops and an open wireless network makes it possible for all Shelton Public Schools students to access Google or Windows-based applications through XenApp. "The students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, now all have the same device and the same access to all the same applications, whether they're in school or at home," says Tina Henckel, assistant director of STEM and data management at Shelton Public Schools.
Another advantage of combining Citrix and Google technology: extended school days. Students can gain remote access to everything from Google Docs to Windows-based applications through XenApp from the comfort of their homes, regardless of device or socioeconomic status. In fact, DiVito says more than 100 students connect remotely to Shelton Public Schools' network every evening—a figure he expects to grow dramatically over the next few years.
One of the most influential trends in education today is differentiated learning, in which educators provide students with different pathways to learning in the same classroom. Shelton Public Schools accomplishes this with the tiny Google Chromebox computers that mount on the back of a monitor and retail for less than $200—a fraction of the nearly $500 per device Shelton Public Schools would have to spend on desktop computers for its classroom learning centers.
"It's now affordable for us to put five lab computers in the back of every classroom, when we could've only afforded two in the past," says Henckel. "For a class with 20 students, that means one-quarter of them can receive differentiated instruction at any given time."
Thanks to XenApp, teachers are now able to work collaboratively on creating curricula without having to coordinate on-site meetings or be issued costly laptops. "XenApp allows teacher, whether they're at home or at a coffee shop, to remotely access their home directory and work collaboratively on curriculum writing," says DiVito. All of which has resulted in a cost avoidance of more than $150,000 in laptop expenses. What's more, because teachers are no longer required to stay on-site to collaborate on curricula—an activity that requires bringing in substitute teachers, DiVito says the district saves almost $50,000 a year in substitute teacher coverage costs.
Going forward, Shelton Public Schools will continue to replace as much of its old equipment as possible. "The teachers see the value of what we're doing, and they're all eager to get more Chromeboxes in their classrooms. As far as I'm concerned, we're still just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Google and Citrix," says DiVito. In fact, DiVito foresees a time when school closures, due to inclement weather, won't have to be made up at another time in the school year because students will be able to access the network remotely via XenApp for an off-site school day.
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