Green Bay Area Public School District embraces flexible communication with the Zoom platform
With a move to cloud telephony, part of Zoom’s unified communications platform, Green Bay’s staff have the ability to choose how and where they work.
Green Bay Area Public School District
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Industry: K-12 education
Challenges: Lack of flexibility with legacy on-premises phone systems meant staff were unable to continue communications outside the office.
Solution: Zoom Phone, Zoom Meetings, Zoom Rooms
Benefits: Full-featured cloud phone system and video communications enabled flexible remote and hybrid work.
Our previous phone systems were on premises — you had a phone on your desk and that was it. When things shut down overnight that meant 3,000 people couldn’t communicate by phone in the way they had for decades. That’s why we started to look at Zoom Phone. It became obvious we needed something cloud-based for an increasingly mobile and geographically disparate workforce.
Joshua PatchakChief operations officer
“We hope every day that no one notices us.”
That’s Joshua Patchak’s goal as chief operations officer of Green Bay Area Public School District (GBAPS) in Northeast Wisconsin. Ultimately, he wants to make sure that the systems he’s responsible for — technology, facilities, transportation, food services, and procurement for 42 schools, 3,000 staff members, and nearly 20,000 students — are running so smoothly that people don’t know they’re there.
These days, Josh and his colleague Amy Jaeckel, executive director of technology and information, have a lot more flexibility in how they manage those systems and networks. But that wasn’t always the case.
Before Josh and Amy found themselves in the middle of a massive operational reset in 2020, their day-to-day activities involved working on site, attending in-person meetings, and managing legacy systems that were physically dependent on their locations.
“We had challenges, but we didn’t see them as challenges until we found a more efficient way of doing things,” Amy said. “I recall we’d have admin meetings and on those days you’d have to get to work early because parking filled up. Commuting, parking, getting to a physical building was our norm — but now would be seen as a challenge.”
“It wasn’t until we went into a forced virtual environment that we realized how lacking our systems of communication were,” Josh said.
Bridging the gap in phone communications
GBAPS’s Zoom story began like many others. Schools shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and Josh, then in Amy’s role, sought a virtual solution to keep students connected to their education. After a few months of using Google Meet, they switched to Zoom.
With schools and offices closed districtwide, employees needed a way to use their work phones even when they weren’t at work. GBAPS was forced to reevaluate its communication infrastructure.
“Our previous phone systems were on premises — you had a phone on your desk and that was it. When things shut down overnight that meant 3,000 people couldn’t communicate by phone in the way they had for decades,” Josh said. “That’s why we started to look at Zoom Phone. It became obvious we needed something cloud-based for an increasingly mobile and geographically disparate workforce.”
Since GBAPS had been using Zoom for virtual instruction and staff communications, Josh and his team saw the benefits of implementing a cloud-based phone system that integrated with what they already had.
“It’s the difference between having a phone system built with the end in mind versus legacy systems that have been Frankensteined — there’s a lot of technical debt in legacy systems,” Josh said. “Zoom Phone was built from scratch with the cloud in mind.”
The district also wanted the new phone system to have SMS capabilities. “We’ve experimented with different ways of communicating with students and parents. Email has a low open rate. Text message is by far the best way to make sure your message is read and responded to,” Josh said.
While GBAPS has physical phones for classrooms and administrative staff, many use Zoom Phone’s softphone feature to make calls from the Zoom app on their mobile device or computer.
“Before our physical phones arrived, the softphone allowed me to do work off premises that traditionally had to take place in the office,” Amy said.
And she’s not the only one. GBAPS’s administrative staff can use the softphone when they’re traveling between schools. “Communication doesn’t slow down or stop until staff get back to their physical phones,” Amy said. “I couldn’t imagine going back to my old phone and having to drive across the district to attend meetings.”
Additionally, Zoom Phone has features to help with school safety. Amy and her team set up Zoom Phone’s nomadic E911 capability to alert the building administrator and other key personnel when a campus phone dials 911. Zoom APIs open up additional capabilities to help Josh and Amy connect teams more quickly.
With the Zoom API, the sky’s the limit in terms of how systems can integrate. Our security system is able to integrate with Zoom Phone, so if there’s an intruder in the building and that alert is triggered it automatically makes various phone calls to school safety personnel via the Zoom API.
Joshua PatchakChief operations officer
A new standard of working
GBAPS’s migration to Zoom Phone is just one example of how communication and ways of working have changed over the past three years.
Almost all large administrative meetings for the district, including professional development, are hybrid, with an option to attend via Zoom or in person.
District board meetings are livestreamed directly to YouTube so community members can stay updated. For parent-teacher conferences, many parents prefer having a virtual option so they can meet while they’re at home or work.
One thing Zoom has allowed us to do is respect that work-life balance for parents, as well as our staff members. If there’s a board meeting at night, I appreciate that I can join the meeting at home because, at the end of the day, it gives me back some time to have dinner with my family.
Amy JaeckelExecutive director of technology and information
Some GBAPS departments even have the option of working remotely or on a hybrid schedule. That flexibility has allowed the district to open up employment opportunities to candidates located outside the Green Bay area. None of that would have been possible in the past, according to Josh. “It shows how integrated Zoom is in our lives — it’s not out of the norm at all, it’s our regular way of doing things now.”
Building a virtual school
District leaders recognized that instructional delivery methods were ready for change, too. While most students returned to a physical campus, the district wanted to give families the option to remain virtual.
“Some students thrived in that situation, and some teachers preferred that medium of instruction, too,” Josh said.
But they wanted to leave practices like using a sheet at home as a green screen, or a laptop webcam to provide a static view of the instructor, in the past. Josh wanted the technology and facilities to drive a more differentiated instructional experience while maintaining GBAPS’s educational standards. “We wanted to focus on production value, really. We wanted it to feel more immersive,” he said.
Our virtual school is unique in that it’s not a tutor or coach helping a student through an online curriculum, it’s authentic classroom teachers from Green Bay teaching our district’s curriculum.
Joshua PatchakChief operations officer
GBAPS’s virtual school is underpinned by instructional studios, which are physical facilities equipped to help teachers provide a high-quality experience.
The district’s instructional studios use Zoom Rooms, a software-based room system that enables instructors to easily start and run their virtual sessions. They also have Poly Studio X50 video bars with automatic camera tracking and built-in audio systems.
“We can convert a single classroom into three instructional studios that can serve about 75 students. It’s efficient operationally and saves money while providing a high-quality experience,” Josh said.
The virtual schooling option meets a wide range of student needs. As Josh mentioned, students who have been thriving in a virtual setting can continue with that option, and other students who have moved away or travel frequently can continue their education uninterrupted. The district is also targeting families that homeschool by offering an established curriculum and instructor while allowing the student to learn in a home environment.
“Students that choose this option are invested in their learning, and they’re taking ownership of their education,” Amy said. “The setup and tools allow for that — the instruction is more individualized and you lose some of the behavior issues that occur in the classroom.”
With an emphasis on virtual and hybrid communications, GBAPS’s operations are much more flexible, allowing the district to meet the various needs and evolving preferences of students, faculty, and staff members.