Yes Prep Public Schools provides a college preparatory education to 5,400 students in the Houston, Texas, area. It achieves amazing results through innovative programs and the hard work of its students, teachers, and administrators: students
have a 100 percent graduation rate. The IT department supports innovation by enabling quick, easy communications and collaboration through Microsoft Lync 2010. Yes Prep takes advantage of all of the built-in capabilities like instant messaging, desktop-sharing,
and voice communications and has even developed additional capabilities like integration with its paging system. Teachers can quickly seek assistance from each other on lesson plans and can use videoconferencing to bring outside experts into the classroom,
while administrators can use Lync to communicate with teachers or classrooms through the paging system.
Yes Prep Public Schools is a Texas charter school system in Houston providing a free college preparatory education. The school system was founded in 1995 and now serves 5,400 students in grades 6 through 12 at ten campuses. Yes Prep has achieved amazing
results as it seeks to increase the number of low-income students in Houston who graduate from a four-year college. In fact, Yes Prep has a 100 percent graduation rate, and 80 percent of its alumni have graduated from or are currently attending college.
Yes Prep has developed a unique educational model to achieve its goals. It has an extended school day and school year, along with afterschool and weekend enrichment programs. It has small schools with 140 students in each grade. It offers a rigorous college
preparatory curriculum. It requires students to do volunteer work in the community, and it provides many avenues of support for students, including:
Campus health services and counseling
Internships at businesses and colleges worldwide
Personalized college counseling
Phone access to teachers after school hours for help with homework or additional support.
Doing More With Less
||Desktop-sharing on Lync really helps with that because our help desk staff can solve any user issues without having to drive to the schools.
Director of IT and Support Services, Yes Prep Public Schools
Although Yes Prep does many things differently than traditional public schools, one similarity the two share is tight budgets. As shortly as three years ago, Yes Prep had very little IT infrastructure. It had no central IT staff, and schools were doing
the best they could to provide their own technology. This lack of technology forced teachers and administrators to work harder to accomplish their goals.
“If you are the sixth-grade science teacher, you are the only one on campus,” explains Lanny Bose, Product Portfolio Manager and former teacher and school principal, Yes Prep Public Schools. “You have no one else to help you on campus. You used to have very
little support in developing lesson plans.”
One way the schools dealt with the additional workload of providing technology was to hire teachers straight out of college, many through the Teach for America program. “We employ young teachers who are very dedicated, but who may only stay in teaching for
two to three years,” says Bose. With the average teacher age at 24, Yes Prep was in a great position to use technology to its fullest potential.
The Telephony Crisis
In August 2008, Yes Prep hired its first IT staff. Two weeks later, Hurricane Ike wiped out the little IT infrastructure it had. “We had a few used private branch exchange [PBX] systems that were in various states of disrepair, and we lost all of them,”
says Troy Neal, Director of IT and Support Services, Yes Prep Public Schools. “We had to get a new phone system installed immediately.” With a background in Cisco technology, Neal first considered a Cisco IP telephony solution, but budget realities made that
impossible. “We knew we couldn’t afford a Cisco solution. You have to provide an endpoint to each user. With licensing, cabling, and device costs, Cisco is not cost-effective,” says Neal. “Next we looked at PBX solutions, but even a simple key system was about
$60,000. With our growth averaging between two and three new campuses a year, that level of expense is not sustainable for us, especially with all of the additional maintenance costs.”
|Troy Neal shows off his many Lync devices.
Luckily, Yes Prep had a connection with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Insource Technology and learned about Microsoft Lync Server 2010 (formerly Microsoft Office Communications Server). By taking advantage of Microsoft academic licensing plans and
the United States government’s eRate program for matching funds, Yes Prep installed Lync Server with full voice communications over an Aruba Networks wireless network for less than $3,000 per campus. More importantly, the school system had the new communications
solution up and running in two weeks.
The young teaching staff at Yes Prep adopted Lync instantly. “We set up some training when we first deployed Lync 2010, and during the first session, everyone was doing group chats and video chats. It was probably frustrating for the trainers,” says Neal.
“Within one day we had 95 percent of our users taking advantage of the full capabilities of Lync.”
Developing an IT infrastructure
With the immediate issue of reestablishing voice communications behind them, the new IT staff set about developing an IT infrastructure for the school system. “Our idea was to build an infrastructure that can handle anything we need to do,” says Neal.
“We installed network connections between the schools, networks at the schools with network drops in each classroom, and wireless networks throughout the school.” Each staff member received a laptop and access to a standardized Microsoft desktop.
“We decided to standardize on Microsoft software and take advantage of everything Microsoft has to offer,” says Neal. “Standardizing on Microsoft makes it easy to manage.” Yes Prep installed Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 for email and voicemail and Microsoft
SharePoint Server 2010 for its business intelligence initiatives. It uses Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 for all of its management tasks.
Upgrading to Lync Server 2010 and Beyond
Yes Prep keeps its software current and upgrades to new versions within 90 days of release. It recently upgraded its communications solution to Lync Server 2010 for its 650 users. The solution is fully virtualized on one Dell R900 server, which is located
in a co-located data center. An AudioCodes Mediant 1000 gateway provides the connection to the public –switched telephone network. It is currently installing AudioCodes Mediant 1000 gateways at each campus to serve as Survivable Branch Appliances, which enable
communications to continue even if the school’s network connection is not available.
|Picture of Lync-integrated paging system with speaker and LCD screen.
Yes Prep extended the Lync Server solution to interact with its school paging system. In 2009, the school system installed a paging system with a speaker in each classroom. It needed the system to indicate the end of each class session. After deploying Lync
Server 2010, the school wanted to enhance the system to perform notifications to individual classrooms. “We went to the manufacturer and to Microsoft to see if we could use Lync Server to control the paging system,” Neal says. “Essentially, we made each speaker
an object in Lync Server 2010. We can send a message to an LCD screen in the classroom or call the classroom on the speaker and have a two-way conversation.” The system is set up so that administrators can interact with a single classroom, groups of classrooms,
or the entire school system.
Yes Prep is also beginning to use the video capabilities in Lync Server 2010 to enable interaction outside of the classroom. “We built some carts with video equipment that we can take into classrooms,” says Neal. “We use them to have video calls with outside
experts and to enable teachers to instruct students from other campuses.”
Lync Server 2010 provided Yes Prep Public Schools with a cost-effective communications solution that it could deploy quickly and scale easily as the school system grew. Yes Prep estimates that it can deploy Lync Server 2010 for about $2,000 per campus
versus about $60,000 for competitive solutions. Despite being dramatically less expensive, Lync Server 2010 provides many additional capabilities that help teachers, administrators, and the IT staff all increase their effectiveness.
Saves Teachers’ Time
Teachers now use Lync on a daily basis to improve their collaboration with colleagues and administrators. Because Yes Prep only employs one teacher for each subject at a campus, the teachers often need to interact with their peers at other schools to
share information. “When I was in the classroom and came across a new topic that I didn’t have a lesson plan for, I would message a teacher at another school who had done it before. That teacher would drag the lesson plan into the Lync window and I’d have
it right away,” says Bose.
The ability to interact quickly and easily with colleagues teaching the same subject had two main benefits. “The fact that I didn’t have to do all of that work by myself saved me two to three hours a day,” says Bose. “Also, culturally, for the teachers to
know that they are not all alone is a huge confidence boost.”
By using the video carts, teachers can share their expertise with students at other campuses without having to drive across the city. This will be a huge benefit to students when they are able to learn from the best instructors in the system.
Saves Administrators’ Time
||We set up some training when we first deployed Lync 2010, and during the first session, everyone was doing group chats and video chats. It was probably frustrating for the trainers. Within one day we had 95 percent of our users taking
advantage of the full capabilities of Lync.
Director of IT and Support Services, Yes Prep Public Schools
By deploying Lync Server 2010, Yes Prep has maintained a low ratio of administrators to students even as it grows quickly. “We are a lean organization. At Yes Prep, the administration and central office staff ratio to teaching staff is drastically lower
than at most other public schools,” says Bose. “The Lync solution makes us more effective so we can grow without adding staff.”
The paging system has especially helped to reduce administration work because now administrators can deliver a message to a classroom using Lync Server 2010 rather than delivering it by hand. “We never wanted to have a central paging system that disrupted
the entire school,” says Neal. “This solution achieves the same result but is a lot cleaner.”
Administrators also use desktop-sharing to help each other resolve problems. “We had a spreadsheet for reporting advanced placement [AP] scores, and the team updating it was struggling with some of the formulas,” says Bose. “We got on Lync 2010 and worked
together to build that resource. Situations like that happen every day.”
By using Lync 2010, administrators can also be more responsive throughout the day. “When I was a school principal, if a teacher needed me, instead of them having to call around or look for me, they could just get on Lync and send an instant message,” says
Bose. “Because I had the Lync Mobile App, I would get the message on my phone wherever I was and head to their classroom.”
Saves IT Time
“Our infrastructure team is only six people with three on help desk, two admins, and myself,” says Neal. “We’re here to educate kids, so we do everything we can to simplify and centralize management so we can spend more time on education initiatives.”
Yes Prep has deployed System Center Operations Manager 2007 to manage all of its Microsoft solutions. “We can centrally manage everything and don’t need anyone on campus,” says Neal. “Desktop-sharing on Lync really helps with that because our help-desk staff
can solve any user issues without having to drive to the schools.”
Big Plans for the Future
While Lync Server 2010 has been a huge success for Yes Prep with rapid user adoption of all of its capabilities, Yes Prep sees a lot more potential. For one interesting project, it plans to use Lync Server 2010 as the front end to its data warehouse.
“We collect a lot of real-time data at the schools, whether on attendance or test scores, and almost everything gets stored and analyzed,” says Bose. “Right now, we present that information to teachers through SharePoint Server 2010, and either the teachers
or the principal calls parents to communicate issues that appear. We have to communicate with families to get them involved, but we don’t always have the bandwidth.” Yes Prep plans to enable parents to interact with the data warehouse through a Lync Server
application on its website so they can check on their student’s progress at any time.
With this initiative and many more like it, Yes Prep plans to continue to provide amazing educational results for its students and the community.
Microsoft Lync Server 2010
Microsoft Lync Server 2010 ushers in a new connected user experience that transforms every communication into an interaction that is more collaborative, and engaging; and that is accessible from anywhere. For IT, the benefits are equally powerful, with a highly
secure and reliable communications system that works with existing tools and systems for easier management, lower cost of ownership, smoother deployment and migration, and greater choice and flexibility.
For more information about Microsoft Lync Server 2010, go to:
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