Dover (New Jersey) School District
Eastern DataComm helps district boost security and communications with digital conversion.
Nearly 9 out of 10 public school districts nationwide say improving security and communications are among their highest priorities, according to a 2020 study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The Dover, N.J., School District has made great strides in addressing those issues, with help from Eastern DataComm.
The Dover School District comprises five schools that serve more than 3,000 students in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. Following an administrative change two years ago, the district has fast-tracked projects designed to resolve a number of lingering issues with the district’s technology infrastructure, including outdated communications platforms and limited emergency response capabilities.
An aging telephone system was among the first things Dr. James McLaughlin, Superintendent, and Christina Cirigliano, Assistant Superintendent, noticed after being hired in the summer of 2019.
“We noticed immediately that there were no phones in our classrooms,” said Cirigliano. “Our teachers had no ability to get in touch with the main office. They relied on the old-fashioned, ‘student-with-a-note’ kind of thing to communicate.”
Like thousands of school districts around the country, Dover schools still had decades-old analog phone systems that delivered dial tone and not much else. Basic features such as voicemail were unavailable, and phones could only be placed in common areas such as the main office and the teacher’s lounge due to infrastructure issues that make it cost-prohibitive to wire buildings for classroom phones.
Such systems create additional challenges. Maintenance issues grow more frequent and more expensive over time, and finding replacement components becomes something of a scavenger hunt. Worse yet, it is almost impossible to integrate intercom and security systems.
“I believe it was the original intercom system put in with the building,” said Cirigliano. “It needed to be replaced to ensure reliability and to create a fully integrated security solution that allows us to initiate a lockdown at the push of a button.”
A COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION
Cirigliano suggested contacting Eastern DataComm, with whom she’d worked on a previous phone conversion project for another school district. Eastern DataComm was able to demonstrate that it would be much more cost-effective to address all issues simultaneously through a tightly integrated digital framework. “We realized we could get it all done with one local company, which was ideal. We didn’t really want to deal with several different providers.”
Eastern DataComm designed and implemented a Mitel VoIP phone system, which eliminated the need for a separate voice network and allowed the district to put phones in every classroom as well as all offices throughout the school buildings and the district’s administrative building.
“Everybody now has a phone, including our cafeteria manager, custodians, and secretaries,” Cirigliano said. “Even traveling teachers and occupational therapists who are in and out of every building have a voicemail account. They can go to any phone and check that voicemail.”
The Mitel system serves as the foundation for an array of digital communication capabilities. Integrated paging and intercoms enable district staff and faculty to make system-wide announcements from any phone on the school grounds. That can save valuable time in an urgent situation.
The Mitel system also delivered an unexpected bonus for Dover schools — support for Eastern DataComm’s Lockdown and Emergency Notification System (LENS) for mass notification and emergency communication. The LENS solution integrates the phone system with PA systems to create a fully automated emergency notification system. The LENS solution can be activated from any phone in a school building or office as well as from mass alerts, emergency lockdown buttons installed in strategic locations throughout the buildings.
LENS integrates notification components such as pre-recorded announcements, LED signboards, strobes/beacons, wireless speakers, messages to key school administrators, and simultaneous calls to 911 and the local police. The LENS system can initiate lockdown, evacuation, or shelter-in-place procedures within 20 seconds after a threat is recognized.
“The system has created a nice communication flow with the police,” said Cirigliano. “When we’re doing drills, we can tell them there’s no need to respond or we can say ‘why don’t you guys go ahead and come in.’ It creates a nice, ongoing conversation about security because of that constant back and forth.”
In addition, Eastern DataComm used the new system to integrate school bells, the school intercom system, and classroom clocks. A simple web-based interface allows centralized scheduling of bells for the entire school year for every school in the district. Wireless clocks are synchronized to ensure every classroom and office throughout the district is on the same schedule. Additionally, clocks automatically adjust for daylight savings.
“I just can’t say enough about Eastern DataComm’s attention to detail,” said Cirigliano. “When we ran into some cabling issues, they even took care of that for us. They did great training with our administrative staff and provided video and audio of the training so we can use that for teachers and other staff. They’ve come out to troubleshoot things for us… The work they’ve done for us is just really top notch. From start to finish, they’ve just been terrific.”