School phones go on ‘the cloud’
Out with the old, in with the new — phones.
That’s the motto Ridgefield Public Schools are embracing this summer after suffering 45 outages with its phone system over the last two years.
Dr. Robert Miller, the district’s technology director, announced Monday that all nine schools have transitioned onto a cloud system that’s hosted by TPX Communications.
“We’ve heard a lot of very positive thank yous and feedback from the staff here with the first part of the rollout yesterday,” he said Tuesday.
Miller told The Press that under the new system — which taxpayers approved at a $550,000 price tag this spring — every district phone connects out through the Internet over to TPX’s cloud-based servers.
“The service provider is where it gets all the information to and from,” he said. “It gets the calls and routes the calls, and it really becomes our service provider for our telephone services.”
Miller said that the change decreases the odds of future outages.
“There’s always disadvantages, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re drawbacks,” he said. “There’s really a lot less that could go wrong.”
On the cloud
The district started the bid process for a cloud-based system in March, distributing a request for proposal online and throughout social media.
Miller received a total of 12 proposals.
“We brought the top two vendors in for a product demonstration,” he said. “When we were all done, our team debated pros and cons of each one.”
The district ultimately chose TPX Communications.
“We decided that this one best met our needs.”
Miller said that replacing the old system was inevitable, and would have cost taxpayers more in the long run had the capital item not been approved in May.
“When you looked at the cost associated with it, we know that we have to incorporate the cost of upgrading the entire system anyway in a year or two — so if we invest anything in a minor upgrade, that upgrade will be wasted,” he told The Press.
“We were also told that any time we had an outage, that we were rolling the dice,” he said. “At any point, we may not be able to recover our equipment in the first place. So we wanted to go to a stable system as soon as possible.”
Miller said one of his favorite aspects of being on the cloud-based system is that the district can handle any type of situation.
“If we ever had a true emergency and I needed to move a building from one location to another — if Central Office is compromised and we have to power for five days, I can pick up our phones and take them over to the town library or another school, as long as there’s Internet access,” he said. “I can re-setup shop wherever we need to go.”
Another feature of the cloud-based phone system is that high school teachers will be able to send or receive calls on their Chromebooks.
“It allows for more mobility across the district,” Miller said.
Making the transfer
The move to the new phone system has two phases.
On Aug. 7, the first phase was incorporated in the offices of each school.
The second phase, slated for Aug. 21, will incorporate the classrooms into the new system.
Miller acknowledged that the process of transferring phone systems is complex.
He has called the vendor at least once a week this summer.
“It’s a lot of data. It’s a lot of looking at each individual room across the district,” he said. “There are different licenses associated with cloud services, so it’s figuring out what features each individual room or person needs.”
“It’s been a lot of implementation on the back end, making sure the data is right and that the company can configure everything to our needs.”
Over last two weeks, there have been various training sessions held to help administrative staff smoothen the transition to the new system.
The topics range from making phone calls, voicemail, and holds, to switching from paper to digital faxes.
“There’s a lot there,” he said. “You kind of just have to use it and learn it on the fly. If you’re using it, that’s how you gain experience on it. Some people are more nervous than others, and that’s normal. But for the most part, I’ve heard very positive feedback.”
After classrooms transition to the new system later this month, Miller will adopt the training sessions to meet the needs of teachers.
“We’ll be able to — even after school starts — get in some revisions and tweaks as we move forward,” he said. “Every time you have a new system, you have to continuously reflect: How is it going? What are the changes we need to make? What’s going well? What’s not going well?
“That cyclical pattern is something we need to make sure that’s part of the process.”