June 22, 2024

Next-Gen Voice and Presence Technology Keep K–12 Districts Safer

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Next-Gen Voice and Presence Technology Keep K–12 Districts Safer
Mon, 03/18/2019 – 12:01

For districts looking to upgrade communications systems, it’s no longer a question of whether to adopt an IP-based phone system, but rather which one to deploy. The advantages they provide — ease of mass notifications, the ability to deliver video as well as voice, greater redundancy and reliability — are simply too compelling to ignore.

But for many budget-strapped districts, the deciding factor frequently comes down to cost. For example, last year Monterey Peninsula Unified School District in Northern California deployed a new solution from Jive Communications

The primary driver for the update was a change in how the ­systems are funded, says Manuel Zamudio, IT director for the district, which serves more than 10,000 students across 24 sites.

Because the district’s phone system used Primary Rate Interface voice lines, it would no longer qualify for federal assistance by the end of 2019 due to changes in the FCC’s E-rate program. Monterey Peninsula needed a cost-­effective solution, and fast.

“The district had to pay full price for new lines, so cost was an important ­factor,” says Zamudio. “The second was reliability. Jive met all our r­equirements for price, ­reliability and future focus, and they were able to ­complete our entire VoIP switchover in a couple of months.”

The company offered discounted rates on low-use lines, like those found inside classrooms, and provided more than 1,000 new handsets at no charge, Zamudio says. All told, moving to Jive slashed the district’s telecom budget by 20 to 25 percent.

Systems like Jive also offer greater reliability and redundancy, Zamudio says. When one of the district’s elementary schools suffered a two-day internet outage last winter, the IT team used Jive to seamlessly reroute calls to administrators’ mobile phones.

“Parents didn’t even know the systems were down,” he says. “If we’re ever in a situation where a site no longer functions, we can plug the phones into the network from a new location. As long as there’s an internet connection, they function as if they were in the office.”

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Schools Use IP-Based Systems to Amplify Safety Initiatives 

Besides reliability and cost, enhanced communication and collaboration tend to be the key reasons why districts adopt IP-based voice solutions, says Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst for COMMfusion, a research and consulting firm.

“Unified communications systems make it easier for schools to interact with families and staff, as well as communicate between different campuses within a district,” she says.

The systems are full of ­features that don’t come with traditional phones, such as presence technology, which allows callers to see whether someone is available before they dial, or video ­capabilities that allow sick or disabled students to attend class remotely.

Another top reason for adoption is that IP phone systems make schools safer by making it easier for districts to send out mass notifications during school lockdowns, and they offer teachers a way to quickly call for help during dangerous situations.

Dan Tynan is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He has won numerous journalism awards and his work has appeared in more than 70 publications, several of them not yet dead.