Amarillo ISD Improves Functionality, Reduces Phone Costs with Digital Communications System

Article excerpt

It's said that everything is bigger in Texas. While that may be debatable, Amarillo Independent School District (AISD), on the sweeping plains of the Texas panhandle, definitely does justice to its state's reputation. The district encompasses about 70 square miles, serving 30,000 students with 4,000 employees across 50 locations.

Phone communication keeps the widely distributed AISD faculty and staff in touch with parents and each other, as well as helps enhance communication per federal education standards. In 2004, the district began exploring options for upgrading its phone system--with phones for every teacher as its ultimate goal. AISD's outdated existing phone system led to staff and cost inefficiencies.

With the old system, IT staff had to physically make moves, adds and changes at locations around the district; less than 100 staff members had voice mail; and the phone company could not provide enough copper wiring to expand the existing system to every teacher. Consequently, providing a phone or voice mail to every teacher would have been prohibitively expensive.

Expanded Features

AISD looked to digital voice communications to free the district from its inflexible copper-wire system while also expanding its functionality. After evaluating several providers, AISD selected the ShoreTel digital voice communications system (www.shoretel.com) because it offered a number of features to drive better communication and staff efficiency for less than the old system. In addition, while daily management with some of the other providers would demand significant staff resources, the ShoreTel system was simple to manage--technology staff could make moves, adds and changes from their desks via a Web interface.

The district would also keep costs down by using its existing analog phones with the ShoreTel system. Plus, AISD could purchase services on a per-line basis as needed, rather than as a large capital acquisition. As a vendor-provided managed system, the digital voice communications system became E-Rate eligible, allowing AISD to cover three-fourths of the cost of the solution using those funds.

Austin, Texas-based Trillion, a ShoreTel channel partner that provides wireless broadband services, worked with AISD to roll out the system districtwide. Trillion configured unique call-flow routing, using ShoreTel workgroup features, to direct calls in various departments. In addition, Trillion acquired a common phone prefix for all district numbers to simplify dialing for staff and outside callers.

Since the district had contracts in place with its local phone company, AISD opted for a phased implementation. Currently, about 532 staff members, including all administrative personnel and teachers at the four high schools, benefit from using voice mail and a number of other advanced ShoreTel features.

The unified messaging system lets our staff and teachers easily access their voice-mail messages from any phone or receive messages via e-mail. …