4-page Case Study
Posted: 6/6/2011
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Fresno Unified School District School District Enhances Learning with Student-Centered Information System

In central California, Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) has been using Microsoft technologies to promote student-centered learning since it signed its Microsoft School Agreement, which includes the Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) Suite, in 2007. FUSD teachers, staff, and students have incorporated Microsoft technology into classrooms and offices to boost learning outcomes and productivity. IT staffers have minimized costs by standardizing on a more efficient infrastructure. Based on the success of these initiatives, FUSD renewed its Enterprise CAL Suite agreement and embarked on a project to replace its student information system and its aging mainframe computer. The Achievement Technology Learning Assessment System (ATLAS) is a state-of-the-art, customized productivity tool for teachers that keeps the focus on students so they can improve learning outcomes.

Situation
In 2007, Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) embarked on an ambitious program to modernize its outdated information technology infrastructure. FUSD was spurred on by the dual challenge of maintaining a high standard of education across a district that serves more than 73,000 students in 150 schools, while coping with ongoing budget cuts. At that time, FUSD turned to Microsoft to help consolidate its infrastructure on the latest productivity-enhancing technologies. It acquired these technologies through the Microsoft School Agreement. This agreement includes the Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) Suite and Software Assurance for Volume Licensing, which provides automatic upgrades to new software versions. The goal for deploying the Enterprise CAL Suite was to lay a solid technology foundation on which to build an efficient, collaborative, student-centered learning environment at lower costs.

“We wanted to provide technology tools for teachers to use in the classroom to help students reach their full potential, and for staff members in all departments, including IT, to work more productively,” says Kurt Madden, Chief Technology Officer at Fresno Unified School District.

Enabling Student-Centered Learning
Almost four years later, Madden is thrilled with the progress made by the district in achieving these goals. FUSD began back in 2007 by deploying Active Directory Domain Services, a component of the Windows Server 2008 operating system, to provide central authentication for all teachers, staff, and students to access network resources. Then, it replaced its Novel GroupWise email solution with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 messaging and collaboration software and deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and downloaded the Office Communicator 2007 client on staff members’ desktops, with Microsoft Office Live Meeting for instant messaging, presence awareness, and web conferencing. Next, it deployed Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for staff members
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* Now that we have our ATLAS student information system, built on Microsoft collaboration technologies, we have retired the mainframe, saving $500,000 in annual costs. *

Kurt Madden
Chief Technology Officer, Fresno Unified School District

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to use as a districtwide collaboration infrastructure. At the same time, IT staff rolled out Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007 to all employees and delivered 1,000 netbook computers with personalized, student digital portfolios using SharePoint Server–based My Site websites to students across the district. Immediately, teachers began incorporating the new tools into their lesson plans.

“The Enterprise CAL Suite agreement taught us that Microsoft products work best when they work together,” Madden says. “With products tied together through Active Directory and with the Microsoft Office system working seamlessly with Office SharePoint Server 2007—which in turn ties in with Exchange Server so people can share calendars and organize their time—we gained a compelling platform to bring structure and order to the district.”

Building a Cost-Effective Infrastructure
FUSD made equally impressive progress toward streamlining its infrastructure and simplifying IT management. It used Hyper-V virtualization technology to consolidate hardware in the data center and deployed Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 to monitor its 70 physical and 200 virtual servers more efficiently. IT staff use Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to deploy software rapidly to the district’s 25,000 personal computers and to manage the 12,000 HP 2133 and 510x Netbooks that students use in the classroom. FUSD is using Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 for backup and archival purposes, while taking advantage of Microsoft Forefront security products to protect the district’s emails and corporate data stores from malicious software. “We’ve realized that budget cuts are here to stay, but over the last three years, we’ve also seen that when you standardize on Microsoft products, you reduce your IT costs,” says Madden.

Envisioning a New Student Information System
Once the district had laid the foundations of a productivity-enhancing IT infrastructure and teachers, students, and staff were incorporating the tools into their daily work, Madden and his IT team turned their attention to a significant new project that would require the latest Microsoft communication, collaboration, and database technologies.

The district had been using the PowerSchool student information system from Pearson for students in grades 7 through 12. Because it was designed for smaller school districts, PowerSchool functioned more as a front end to the district’s mainframe, which housed the original student information system. Teachers from kindergarten through grade 6 were still taking attendance, writing reports cards, and conducting standardized formative tests on paper.

“The PowerSchool system took a lot of my time: I would have to log on, load a class, get it ready, and pull down the menu for students before I got started, and that was for every one of my classes,” says Jackie Burger, a middle school teacher in the Fresno Unified School District. ”This wasted time before I could even get the class started. The built-in reports for student assessments were not very intuitive and many of our teachers had trouble configuring the solution in a way that made sense to them. And if I did any work at home, I had to come in and upload it manually to the mainframe.”

“Most commercially available student information systems are for smaller districts, and don’t address the needs of districts with more than 50,000 students,” continues Madden. “Almost all of them focus on the administrative aspects of education rather than what is going on in the classroom. And when these systems did focus on the behavior of a child, it was more about collecting information on negative behaviors. With PowerSchool, there were lots of drop-down menus for different functions, but it took a while to navigate to the individual students.

“We wanted a student information system that reflected our philosophy at the district, one that was teacher-designed and student-focused with an emphasis on positive behavior. We also wanted to include parent access in our system.”

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* We wanted to provide technology tools for teachers to use in the classroom to help students reach their full potential, and for staff members in all departments, including IT, to work more productively. *

Kurt Madden
Chief Technology Officer, Fresno Unified School District

*
The district envisioned a student information system that would be a “one-stop shop” solution for teachers to accomplish all their administrative and teaching duties as efficiently as possible.

And, as one of the largest school districts in the United States, FUSD needed a robust database solution to support its student information system. Madden and his IT colleagues wanted a solution that would interoperate with the wealth of student data already collected in the district’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software to provide rich analytics that teachers and staff could use to help each student reach their potential.

“Our vision did not match what was available off the shelf,” says Madden. “Then we realized we had the technologies we wanted already in-house. We just needed some help putting it all together.”

Solution
In April 2010, Fresno Unified School District renewed its Enterprise CAL Suite agreement through the Microsoft School Agreement. It also took advantage of Software Assurance to upgrade to the latest versions of the products in the suite. While the student information system project was a major motivation in keeping up-to-date with the new technologies, Madden is quick to point out that renewing the Enterprise CAL was also an endorsement of the ongoing benefits the district had come to expect from Microsoft software.

Following the renewal, FUSD deployed Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange, which is part of the Forefront Protection Suite that is included in the Enterprise CAL Suite, to help secure its network from a burgeoning amount of unsolicited emails—several million a day. Forefront Online Protection for Exchange replaced FUSD’s existing, open source solution that could not filter malicious email on that scale.

In April 2011, the district began its upgrade to Exchange Server 2010 to take advantage of unified communications, and it is gradually introducing Voice over Internet Protocol capabilities across the district by integrating Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with its aging PBX systems. “Now that we have high-speed Internet at all of our schools, we can gradually introduce softphones with the goal of phasing out traditional analog phones and telephone lines altogether,” says Madden. “To achieve this goal, we’ll be upgrading to Microsoft Lync Server 2010 in 2011.” Softphones use software to make telephone calls over the Internet.

When the district upgraded to Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, it gained a more scalable virtualization solution. Hyper-V can take advantage of up to 64 logical processors and offers Live Migration to build highly redundant server clusters in its data center. Today, FUSD hosts more than 200 terabytes of data in its SQL Server 2008 R2 databases in a virtualized environment. And in February 2010, Madden and his IT team upgraded from Office SharePoint Server 2007 to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 as part of an early release program with Microsoft.

Collaboration with Microsoft Services
With the new technology in place, FUSD needed to find a partner to help develop the new student information system. In November 2008, the superintendent and Madden had been visiting the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, to talk to the Education division about their challenges. “We saw how Microsoft had worked with some of the other districts around the county,” continues Madden. “So when our account rep suggested we talk to Microsoft Services, we were interested to see what they would propose for our student information system.”

Before the IT team could begin work on the project, however, Madden had to present the proposal to the school district’s board. He felt confident that the idea of replacing the aging mainframe with a state-of-the-art, customized student information system would be well received. However, it was the fact that they wanted to work with Microsoft that made the difference. “The Microsoft name really helped because the board members had seen Microsoft on-site for presentations and meetings with our superintendent, and they appreciated their expertise and the level of commitment to the district’s goals,” he says.

Customized Student Information System
Work on the new student information system, dubbed the Achievement Technology Learning Assessment System (ATLAS), got underway in June 2009. “Our Microsoft account rep introduced us to a database guru at Microsoft, and he designed a new SQL Server database to deliver the business analysis capabilities we wanted with the new student information system,” says Madden.

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* We’ve realized that budget cuts are here to stay, but over the last three years, we’ve also seen that when you standardize on Microsoft products, you reduce your IT costs. *

Kurt Madden
Chief Technology Officer, Fresno Unified School District

*
ATLAS was built using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system and Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in. With this powerful combination, the team created an intuitive, student-focused user interface for the teachers. Microsoft and FUSD IT staff interviewed more than 500 teachers and worked with the Microsoft Services team to identify and incorporate functionality into ATLAS that would make a difference to the learning environment in the district.

“We would never have finished the gradebook, which tracks student assessment scores, on time without Silverlight,” says Madden. “We used Silverlight to deliver a dynamic experience for the teachers. They can reconfigure and sort the gradebook spreadsheet to their liking and there are lots of hover features, where if a teacher hovers the mouse over a student’s name, it brings up extra information such as their ID number.”

ATLAS was designed to reflect the district’s emphasis on child-centered learning; the students are always the focal point when a teacher is working in the application. Rather than first asking teachers what they want to do, and then asking to which student they want to apply those actions, the methodology of many function-driven student information systems, ATLAS turns that around to ask, “Which student do you want to work with?” and then “What do you want to do with that student?”

“When teachers sign on to ATLAS, they are presented with a screen that is their classroom, with photos of each student,” explains Madden. “Each student has an action button that drops down, and teachers can see all the information there is about that student, including alerts, medical allergies, grades, schedules, special education services that they require, who’s designated to pick them up after school, and so on.”

The system also serves parents. Madden and his team added a parent’s portal to ATLAS, which was launched March 1, 2011, where parents can log on and see their child’s attendance, grade history, and class work. Students also have access to this portal. “On the day we launched the portal, we had 900 parents log on,” says Eric Tilton, Director of Networks & Engineering at Fresno Unified School District and the creator of the Parent Portal. “Our record for daily site visits is 1,400. We’ve tracked more than 200,000 site visits over the last 30 days.”

Microsoft Services is also helping with a new ATLAS component that is being developed and will deliver formative assessments and integrated analytics to the teachers. Called the Mastery Assessment and Professional Development (MAP) project, it helps teachers see how well their students understand the concepts behind a subject, as measured by the formative assessment tests.

“We relied on the teachers involved in the project to build the content in such a way that it measures conceptions and misconceptions around standard learning outcomes, and offers ways to help work through those misconceptions and re-teach the material to achieve a better result,” says Madden.

Social Networking in Education
Since introducing SharePoint Server–based My Site websites for students three years ago, their number has grown to 25,000. Today, these My Site websites, contained in the digital archives at FUSD, form a record of students’ class assignments and project work all the way from kindergarten to grade 12. In December 2010, the IT staff migrated the sites to SharePoint Server 2010.

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* You would be surprised at how often students look at the portal to see how they are doing. It’s very empowering for students and parents to take ownership of their academic progress. *

Jackie Burger
Middle School Teacher, Fresno Unified School District

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SharePoint Server 2010 provides enhanced social networking features that teachers can incorporate into their classroom learning and group projects, such as social tagging, wikis, and blogging “Even if our students don’t have computers at home, when I asked the kids in the classroom how many have a Facebook account or some social networking account, 100 percent raised their hands,” says Madden. “We felt that offering social networking technologies in the classroom context was an incredible opportunity to keep the students engaged in school life and learning. So here at the district we have developed internal Fresno Twitter accounts, which we call ‘Fritters’!”

To ensure good digital behavior, FUSD created a policy for acceptable use of technology, which everyone must sign. In addition, teachers have all the students’ logon information and can monitor the My Site websites for inappropriate content. To block students’ access to inappropriate sites, the IT team deployed another component of the Forefront Protection Suite that FUSD gets with the Enterprise CAL Suite agreement, Forefront Threat Management Gateway Web Protection Service. This technology works with Windows Internet Explorer 8 and 9.

ATLAS was rolled out to all schools across the district in August 2010 and the district retired PowerSchool and the mainframe as its student information system. Elementary schools have been given a year to migrate to the ATLAS Gradebook, however, three-quarters of elementary teachers are already using it. And every FUSD teacher is using ATLAS to take attendance and for the other components of the system including behavior, enrollment, transfers, and marked grades.

“After 35 years on the mainframe and a decade on Powerschool, the conversion to ATLAS had all the challenges that come with a significant culture change and the release of a 1.0 product,” says Madden. “During the first few months after school opened, Microsoft Consulting Services staff worked alongside Fresno Unified developers to resolve issues. By January 2011, things were right on track and with the assistance of a support tool built in SharePoint Server 2010 by our team, ATLAS is now being supported by just one person on the Help desk. By March of the 2010/2011 school year, more than 12 million scores had been entered into ATLAS by teachers and nearly half a million assignments and assessments had been created.”

Benefits
Since renewing its Enterprise CAL Suite agreement, the Fresno Unified School District has released a state-of-the-art student information system built with in-house technologies and using internal expertise in conjunction with Microsoft Services. “ATLAS was truly a collaborative effort that resulted in a product that we can all be proud of,” says Madden. “Our goal was to deliver a system that made a real difference to the work lives of our teaching staff to improve classroom learning. While the conversion to a new information system is one of the most difficult and traumatic undertakings for any school district, teachers and administrators are already beginning to see the benefits of ATLAS.”

ATLAS also highlights the overarching value of the Enterprise CAL Suite agreement with Microsoft. Purchasing the products from different vendors would be more expensive, as would be acquiring them from Microsoft individually. Instead, with the Enterprise CAL Suite, the district gains a suite of products whose collective potential are a powerful incentive for innovation on the scale of FUSD’s new student information system.

And FUSD will save money as it streamlines its IT infrastructure and improves staff productivity through enhanced communication and collaboration capabilities.

Improved Classroom Learning
Using ATLAS to automate paper-based duties, such as taking attendance, writing report cards, and assisting with assessments, teachers can spend less time on paper work and more time on teaching.

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* We would not have arrived at where we are today without Microsoft being an outstanding partner and working with us on a day-to-day basis. *

Kurt Madden
Chief Technology Officer, Fresno Unified School District

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“With ATLAS, everything is in one place and with all my classes in tabs it’s very easy to go from one tab to another to take attendance,” says Burger. “The report section is fantastic because I can manipulate the data in a way that’s easy to read for the students. I just click a button and choose the student assessment grid and it formats it for me automatically. I can save it as a PDF or in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, and format it any way I want. The grades are accessible immediately to parents and students on the parent portal. I’d say that with administrative work, I’m 80 percent more productive. The end result is that I’m spending more time focused on the kids in my classroom.

ATLAS also reflects the district’s philosophy about encouraging positive behavior. If a teacher clicks on the behavior tab, he or she is presented with just as many positive check boxes as negative ones. “That way, we can follow a child’s behavior, good and bad, and move quickly to intervene if we see a student whose behavior is beginning to slip, before it becomes a real problem,” says Madden.

You would be surprised at how often students look at the portal to see how they are doing,” continues Burger. “It’s very empowering for students and parents to take ownership of their academic progress.”

While ATLAS will continue to help build teachers’ relationships with students and simplify their administrative duties, the Microsoft platform combines with the students’ netbooks and other classroom technologies, such as whiteboards, to help teachers move from what Madden describes as being “the sage on stage” to “the guide on the side.” The MAP tool will help teachers review areas of the curriculum with groups of students that need extra help, while other students can work on their netbooks.

“The overall goal is to give teachers the opportunity to walk around the classroom more, spending time with individual students at their desks and less time up at the front, teaching to the whole room,” says Madden.

Reduced Costs
With the Enterprise CAL Suite, FUSD has been gradually streamlining its IT environment for four years. To date, it has retired several third-party products, contributing to significant cost savings, both in license fees and IT administration time. “Now that we have our ATLAS student information system, built on Microsoft collaboration technologies, we have retired the mainframe, saving [U.S.]$500,000 in annual costs,” says Madden. “We’ve saved an additional $250,000 in annual licensing and maintenance costs from retiring other third-party products, while gaining additional functionality from the Enterprise CAL Suite products—truly a ‘do more with less’ situation.”

And with the Office Communicator 2007 client installed on thousands of desktops across the district, FUSD is saving money on support costs. Instead of sending help desk staff to school sites for desk side assistance, support staff can share screens to see what the teacher is doing wrong to quickly solve the problem.

Fast Return on Investment
Typically, student information systems, most of which are web based, cost $10 per student per year. “Initial configuration, data migration, and installation can be from $1-3 million for a larger district,” says Madden. “For us, a one-time investment compared with the ongoing annual costs of other solutions showed us that we would pay off ATLAS after the first two years.”

Increased Collaboration and Productivity
Teachers and staff throughout the district are saving time and working more productively thanks to their adoption of enhanced communications and collaboration tools. “It’s great to be able to IM other teachers from the front of the class to ask them something, or to borrow a piece of equipment, without interrupting the lesson,” says Burger. “And if there is a child acting up, it’s also useful to be able to discreetly IM the principal to come to the classroom and take the student into the hall.”

There has been a sharp increase in the use of web conferencing over the past 18 months. In fact, all of the principals at the district’s eight high schools and 25 middle schools, and most of the district office staff have web cams installed on their desktop computers.

“Our administrative staffs are very comfortable scheduling video conference calls and sharing screens during impromptu meetings, and that’s saved a lot of time for people driving between schools,” says Madden. “We’ve even used Office Communications Server for our weekly IT staff meetings. Throughout the district, there are dozens of web conferences going on every day.

“Upgrading our infrastructure, deploying ATLAS, and retiring the mainframe was an enormous undertaking that I would liken to a heart and lung transplant for the school district,” concludes Madden. “In our elementary schools, teachers have been taking attendance and grading children using a pen and paper for centuries, so this was a huge culture shift and it was not undertaken lightly. We would not have arrived at where we are today without Microsoft being an outstanding partner and working with us on a day-to-day basis.”

Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization
With infrastructure optimization, you can build a secure, well-managed, and dynamic core IT infrastructure that can reduce overall IT costs, make better use of resources, and become a strategic asset for the business. The Infrastructure Optimization model—with basic, standardized, rationalized, and dynamic levels—was developed by Microsoft using industry best practices and Microsoft’s own experiences with enterprise customers. The Infrastructure Optimization model provides a maturity framework that is flexible and easily used as a benchmark for technical capability and business value.

For more information about Microsoft infrastructure optimization, go to:
www.microsoft.com/io  

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Fresno Unified School District products and services, call (559) 457-3000 or visit the website at:
www.fresnounified.org

Solution Overview




Organization Profile

Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) is the fourth largest district in California. It serves more than 73,000 students from preschool through grade 12 in the city of Fresno. FUSD employs 10,000 people.


Business Situation

FUSD needed a new student information system that would reflect the district’s philosophy of student-centered learning and allow it to retire its aging mainframe computer.


Solution

FUSD renewed its Enterprise Client Access License Suite and worked with Microsoft Services to build a state-of-the-art student information system on Microsoft collaboration and database technologies.


Benefits

  • Improved classroom learning
  • Reduced costs
  • Fast return on investment
  • Increased collaboration and productivity


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Enterprise
  • Enterprise CAL Suite
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Microsoft Forefront Client Security
  • Microsoft Forefront Online Protection For Exchange
  • Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2
  • Microsoft Office Professional 2010
  • Windows 7
  • Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services

Vertical Industries
Education

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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