About Tuscaloosa City Schools
Located in western Alabama, Tuscaloosa City Schools has 10,000 students and 1,300 faculty and staff across 22 schools. The school district works to create a learning environment that prepares students for success in the 21st century.
Tuscaloosa City Schools has some conflicting requirements: the school wants to go green, but also encourages teachers and staff to work together in groups which often requires travel and use of building resources. By leveraging technology to improve collaboration across all its schools, the district could meet both goals.
In addition, a small IT staff spent too much time traveling among locations to update and troubleshoot users’ workstations. The district needed to automate and centralize desktop management and free up its IT staff to focus on new technologies and user training.
Tuscaloosa City Schools evaluated Microsoft SharePoint before selecting Vibe and GroupWise to improve collaboration across its 22 schools. “We found Vibe easier to use and administer than Microsoft SharePoint,” said Andrea Gilbreath, technology coordinator at Tuscaloosa City Schools. “We also selected GroupWise as our e-mail and collaboration platform because the hardware, software and administration costs would have been much greater with Microsoft Exchange.”
Using Vibe, the district has created shareable online workspaces. Teachers and staff can share documents, coordinate tasks and share ideas via forums, wikis and blogs. Teachers can participate in discussions or conference calls from home or their classroom, greatly reducing travel time and costs.
For example, the arts and education groups across the district are using Vibe to create a central repository for music and other materials. “It used to take us months to perform a curriculum review and jointly edit documents,” said Jeffrey Schultz, elementary school teacher at Tuscaloosa City Schools. “Now we can finish projects in a matter of days because all team members can log in at any time to review the most current versions of documents.”
The district’s administrative team now publishes all administrative manuals online using Vibe, providing its1300 faculty and staff with centralized access to the most current forms, policies and updates. This has dramatically reduced printing and distribution costs.
District employees use GroupWise to access e-mail from school or home. Employees benefit from the ability to share calendars and perform busy searches to schedule meetings and events across the district. GroupWise also provides encryption to protect confidential student information and helps the district comply with federal regulations, such as HIPAA. “One administrator can manage all our GroupWise post offices with just a fraction of his time,” said Gilbreath. “Since moving to GroupWise, our e-mail has never gone down.”
With ZENworks, the district’s small IT staff can manage all its desktops from a central location. The IT staff can now image the computers in an entire school in just one day and can deliver an application anywhere in the district within an hour, all without leaving their desks.
“There are really no competitors to the desktop management capabilities of ZENworks,” said Gilbreath. “We couldn’t live without remote control to troubleshoot user workstations.” Tuscaloosa City Schools is also using M+Extranet from Messaging Architects to automate the publishing of calendars and other information from GroupWise to the district’s Web site. Parents can even access coordinated calendars for multiple children.
By using Open Enterprise Server running SUSE Linux Enterprise as its operating platform, the district can take advantage of open source educational software which is installed on every desktop in the district.
“The cost savings from using OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office is significant,” said Gilbreath. “By spending less on software, we can buy a lot more computers for our students.”
Vibe is helping the teachers and staff at Tuscaloosa City Schools collaborate in real-time across the district, which has dramatically reduced travel costs as well as the need to print administrative documents.
ZENworks has reduced IT administration time by 80 percent and allows the IT staff to provide immediate support to users via remote control. With a Linux platform, the district has been able to re-deploy many machines, reducing hardware costs by 85 percent. By moving to OpenOffice.org, the district has also reduced desktop software costs by 95 percent. “Without Novell (now a part of Micro Focus), we would need to double our IT staff and still would not be able to provide near the amount of services we do today,” said Gilbreath. “The less time we spend managing technology, the more time we can spend helping and training our users.”