Uplift Education operates a network of 20 high-performing, public charter schools serving over 6,000 students in underserved areas across the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
Each new building Uplift Education acquired and converted into a school for the district needed infrastructure, such as wireless networks, the IP data network, IT alerting, and overhead paging systems, to be specifically designed. This meant disparate and inefficient systems that did not accommodate future growth needs for an efficient mass notification system.
With the help of its Cisco channel partner, Uplift Education used Cisco phones and InformaCast mass notification software to create a comprehensive solution that allows centralized management, localized access for each school, flexible design options, and scalability. Uplift Education uses InformaCast for emergency mass notification, 911 (emergency call) monitoring and recording, overhead paging, and ringing class passing time bells with the help of a new automated school bell system.
Finding a Unified Solution
Like many K-12 institutions across the country, Uplift Education works hard to provide students with an excellent education while keeping operating costs low. One of the biggest challenges for Uplift is that each new school in their system is a building that has been acquired and converted into a school by the district. As a result, infrastructure like wireless networks, the IP data network, and overhead paging systems need to be designed to fit each location. The need to keep systems and networks secure at remote locations is also paramount.
Each school facility is managed by a principal and/or building administrator. Many of the schools were independently buying their own PA and bell systems. Some schools had one or the other, both, or neither. Whatever solution each school would pick, it was then up to the regional operational directors to implement, deploy, and manage it.
At one of the schools, the old megaphone system that was used was loud and intrusive. If staff needed to change a bell schedule or upload a new sound file, the system would take hours to update. None of the clocks were in sync. After getting feedback from senior directors asking about what other schools were using for PA and bell systems, it was clear that Uplift Education needed to find a comprehensive solution that would allow centralized management, localized access for each school, flexible design options, and scalability to meet future growth needs.
Flexible Audio Broadcasts
Uplift Education met with their Cisco channel partner to discuss possible solutions. Since Uplift was already putting Cisco phones into every classroom in every school, they wanted to find a way to leverage the speaker on each phone. InformaCast from Singlewire Software was the solution that met those needs, providing overhead paging, school bells, and much more.
Since InformaCast is a web-based, network-centric software solution, a broadcast can be triggered from either a web interface or a Cisco phone, making it a versatile solution that can adapt to the needs of each school. Campus directors who spend time away from their computers can pick up any phone, log into the system, and initiate an ad-hoc, live audio, or pre-recorded broadcast to the school.
In the locations within a school where there weren’t any phones, like hallways, the auditorium, and the gymnasium, Uplift added IP speakers, which could be plugged directly into the IP data network versus implementing a completely separate and redundant analog overhead paging system. After they began looking at schools, they quickly realized that in most scenarios, a school didn’t need more than four speakers.
The scheduling notification feature in InformaCast also gave Uplift the ability to ring school bells. Because the system uses pre-recorded WAV audio files, the recording of a bell or tone can now be a specific person’s voice or a customized message. Administrators from each school location can log in, access InformaCast, and change or customize the bell schedule for just their school.
InformaCast also provides Uplift with an emergency notification system. For example, if there was an intruder in the building, a message could be sent to each classroom instructing teachers to read their phones. Then, with the scrolling-text-message capabilities in InformaCast, details about the security threat and lockdown could be discretely provided to the teacher in the text display on their Cisco phones without alarming the students. The message will stay in place on a phone until a teacher acknowledges the message and clears the screen.
Teachers and staff use InformaCast every day in new and innovative ways. One school in the district is piloting the use of Cisco WiFi phones in the parking lot and car lines, replacing the use of walkie-talkies. They can use all the InformaCast features directly from the Cisco phone through the WiFi connection that is already present. Using the InformaCast features allows someone outside to send a message to all of the classrooms saying, “John Doe’s mother is here to pick him up.” If he is in a classroom being tutored, the message will still reach him. Because the schools are already equipped with a wireless Internet connection, there is no additional cost to roll out this feature, except the cost of the individual wireless phones.
Uplift has also begun implementing InformaCast CallAware in their schools to track 911 calls. If a 911 call is placed somewhere in the school an InformaCast message can be sent to the office with details including what phone the call was placed from and what time it was placed. With this information staff in the office can quickly and efficiently direct emergency response workers to the right location in the building.
Return on Investment
The investment made with InformaCast has been returned in many ways. Because it operates on the IP data infrastructure and leverages the existing phones, the additional cost of building and maintaining two separate networks for overhead paging and passing bells is eliminated.
IT staff is able to implement and manage the InformaCast application centrally, as a part of the existing IT network in their data centers, and provide localized access for each school. Because there is no need for specialized staff training on multiple systems and onsite maintenance visits the school district saves both time and money.
Not only was the solution cost-effective, but it was also a simple one for Uplift to implement. At the end of the day, it’s a professional system that’s easy for staff to use, customize, and adapt to the organization’s changing needs.
Visit our Schools & Districts page for more information about how to InformaCast can help enhance safety and communication for students and teachers.