Keller ISD Increases Connectivity for Students

Texas K-12 school district creates seamless wireless access and network transparency

Keller Independent School District (ISD)

Serving a diverse, fast growing, and ever-changing area in Fort Worth, Texas, Keller ISD turned to Cisco to bring seamless wireless access to students and proactive network monitoring capabilities.

Industry: Education
Location: Texas, USA
Size: 4000 employees



  • Network access difficulties by students, including during state STAAR testing
  • Time-consuming processes in reacting to network issues
  • Improvements due for higher levels of network security
  • Declining trust in IT with students, parents, and staff
  • Lack of visibility and transparency across network


  • Improved Wi-Fi access for 35,000 students across 45 campus locations
  • Consistent and reliable access to digital resources and online state testing
  • Improved confidence in networking with proactive monitoring
  • Boosted security with ease of Cisco Networking and Cisco Security integration 
  • Future-ready environment to support events and testing

Safeguarding connectivity for state testing

As a global workforce and economy made immediate adjustments to work online, education was one of the hardest hit segments. Lessons, assignments, and homework needed to be delivered online to make sure that students were on track with their education. In the State of Texas, STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) testing, which is designed to measure student proficiency in each grade and readiness to progress, also went fully digital.

At Keller Independent School District (ISD), things look a little different. Even before the pandemic, schools in this visionary district were equipped to support digital learning. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications help shape the student experience. Numerous critical apps—from Canvas, ClassLink, and Nearpod, to Gmail, Aeries, and more—support 35,000 students in schools across 45 campus locations.

Students are issued Google Chromebooks or Apple iPads, depending on grade level, all of which are connected to the school network so they can complete assignments and tests. There has also been a huge increase in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) usage by students, and almost everyone on campus uses a digital device.

The district refreshed its network in 2021, including rolling out a Wi-Fi 6-enabled network with Cisco Catalyst 9120 Series and 9130 Series Access Points to help ensure schools had reliable connectivity. For network management, Cisco Catalyst Center and Cisco ThousandEyes were also introduced to get better visibility and insight into network and connectivity issues before they caused disruption. However, when STAAR testing in Texas transitioned to fully online, Keller ISD experienced challenges. Because of the network visibility, the IT team could see that the issues were not caused by the network.

"We had Wi-Fi 6 with highly available 10 gigabit network connectivity ready when STAAR testing kicked off. It was almost like a pilot to see how well-equipped the test center was to run digitally," explained Vaughan Hamblen, executive director of technology at Keller ISD. "When we started live testing, we were completely bombarded with complaints about Wi-Fi issues, which didn't make sense because we could see that connectivity looked great."

We looked at a lot of options before rolling out Cisco. It's the most comprehensive network security solution on the market. We've unified infrastructure, endpoint, and security teams under one solution.

Vaughan Hamblen, Executive Director of Technology

Getting to the root of the issue

The IT team met with principals and teams concerned about the STAAR testing experience. Thanks to the visibility with Cisco Catalyst Center, the IT team could present reporting to rule out issues with Wi-Fi, access points, and bandwidth, and have constructive conversations around the real issues. "We realized the access issues corresponded to places where the cellular signal was low," revealed Hamblen.

The team used Cisco ThousandEyes to produce even more transparency on the situation from campus to application level. "It turned out students were trying to access the network via a VPN to get around content and safety filters. We use Cisco Umbrella to make sure they can't access any inappropriate websites, and it also blocks VPNs," Hamblen explained. By showing students how to log in to the correct wireless network, connectivity issues in the classroom disappeared.

Adopting a more proactive approach to monitoring

Proactive monitoring has helped the IT team to build trust and confidence with stakeholders across the schools by enabling it to accurately pinpoint whether issues were coming from the testing center, a device, or the network. That meant Keller ISD had total confidence that it was ready for the next upcoming STAAR testing. The state testing center has been consistently stable since the implementation. The dashboard uses simple red or green lights to show at a glance whether there are any issues with connectivity to the center that need to be addressed.

Previously, Hamblen and team could spend weeks at one school trying to find the source of their connectivity issues without data or wider network visibility. This wasn't just time consuming, but it also put a strain on relationships with principals and school administrators. Moving from a reactive to a proactive approach was one of the biggest driving factors behind the network refresh and proactive monitoring.

"Cisco is helping to change perceptions of our department. We had a community ambassadors meeting where I could use real metrics to demonstrate that the teaching and learning experience is far better than last year," explained Hamblen. "The teachers confirmed they hadn't had any problems, which was amazing to hear."

Better insight across the entire network

There are a lot of variables involved in monitoring a network. With Cisco technology, Keller ISD has better insight into how things are running and where any issues are developing. Next, it will roll out Cisco ThousandEyes Enterprise Agents to its 1000 switches and then evaluate how the network is performing at every school.

"Now that we have the time and technology, we can start looking at the individual experience, not just the campus," added Hamblen. "The trust that we're building with schools gives us more authority to say they need to encourage students to use provided Chromebooks or iPads and Wi-Fi if they want to enjoy the best possible experience."

In total, Cisco Catalyst Center covers 10 million square feet of real estate. While doing the recent network refresh, Keller ISD simplified the wireless experience with a single Service Set Identifier (SSID) for all devices. This removes the confusion of multiple SSIDs and eases user access. To help keep that environment secure, the IT team uses Mobile Device Management (MDM) with Cisco Identify Services Engine (ISE) integration to streamline onboarding of district and BYOD devices, which also includes a single SSID for Wi-Fi connectivity. Keller ISD also deploys Cisco Secure Firewall to help secure their learning environment. Cybersecurity is a particular concern for all schools, which are often targeted by malicious actors. The Keller ISD team performs regular threat analysis and weeds out a lot of false positive alarms.

"We looked at a lot of options before rolling out Cisco. It's the most comprehensive network security solution on the market. We've unified infrastructure, endpoint, and security teams under one solution," confirmed Hamblen. "Cisco support has also been really great. The team works alongside us and with other key vendors to resolve issues faster."

An investment in success

The network refresh funding came from bonds, which adds the pressure of ensuring IT is making wise investments. By tracking metrics in Cisco Catalyst Center, the team has actively demonstrated an increase in the quality of learning since the rollout.

"Previously, every teacher was losing learning time dealing with connection issues. Now that the community has bought into using our network and provided devices, classes spend on average 4.6 hours a day connected to the network compared to less than three hours previously. With 272 additional hours of connectivity per school year, we can show that students are getting more out of it," commented Hamblen.

With a lean IT team of 10 members managing 45 campus locations concurrently, they were spending weeks at a time on site trying to diagnose network issues. Now, with Cisco Catalyst Center, they can automate and monitor all sites remotely as well as use AI-based insights to reduce the time to resolution for network issues from two weeks to just two minutes.

"Today, we're confident that for our needs we have the best equipment, the best technology, and we expect the best for our students and teachers. At the end of the day, nothing matters more than the quality of the learning experience," said Hamblen. "As for the IT team, we're focusing more on orchestration and looking at how we can further optimize our network."