Peak Uptime Plugs Education Into The Future

The Skiatook Public School District in Skiatook, Okla., a small town about a half-hour outside of Tulsa, is working with a local solution provider to finish its latest technology project: bring a SMART Board interactive whiteboard to every classroom.

The school district, which totals four schools serving a growing student population of over 2,400 students, currently uses about 600 whitebox desktop PCs and four whitebox servers from Peak UpTime, a Tulsa-based solution provider.

Peak UpTime, which is currently building two new servers for the district, has also helped implement a video surveillance system and an automated system for checking visitors' IDs and backgrounds.

Skiatook is in better shape in terms of technology than most districts because of decisions made about eight years ago, said Steve Williams, assistant superintendent of Skiatook Public Schools. "Our superintendent told the staff that we're going to get on this ship, and it's leaving the dock," Williams said. "He committed to upgrade our technology, and got the teachers to get into it."

As a result, the district now has at least one computer lab in each of its schools, as well as three to five PCs in each classroom for student use. The district completely replenishes one of the labs each year.

The focus on technology spreads beyond the classroom. The district recently opened a 5,200-seat area which is fully computerized, Williams said. It has also integrated its video surveillance cameras into its network, and installed LobbyGuard Visitor Management Systems devices to screen visitors to the schools.

Peak UpTime has built for the Skiatook school district custom-made servers and PCs, integrated the schools' computer labs, integrated the video surveillance system and LobbyGuard devices into the school network, and helped set up a system called Messenger, which alerts parents by email, text messaging, and phone in case of an emergency.

Travis Flake, manager of Peak UpTime's education solutions, said technology has had a strong impact on both the Skiatook school district and on the community. "A former school president with ties to ATandT managed to get a Fibre connection to the school which has allowed the entire community to get high-speed Internet," he said.

Schools need good technology partners in order to let them focus on their students, Flake said.

"We tell schools, we know you are in the business to educate our children," he said. "That's their job. We need to make sure they have the tools they need to do their job."

Peak Uptime is currently involved in getting a SMART Board interactive whiteboard in every classroom in the Skiatook district.

Peak Uptime provides the SMART Board, along with an NEC projector and a custom-built desktop PC. The PC can project Web-based material through the projector on the screen, where teachers and students can use "electronic pens" to make notes or solve problems. Anything on-screen can then be printed as needed.

Work done on-screen can also be saved in a file for eventual broadcasting or even podcasting, and can be sent to other schools, Williams said.

Karen Smith, a second grade teacher at the school, has had a SMART Board in her classroom since October. Smith said she can use it to project a page from her textbook that is downloaded from the Internet onto the screen, and let kids work out the problem in front of the class using electronic pens. She also uses it to pull up Web-based videos related to the day's topics.

The SMART Board project started a couple years ago when the district's superintendent saw the product at a convention, Williams said.

"He liked it, bought a few, and threw them out there," he said. "The more aggressive teachers grabbed them for their classrooms. Then other teachers wanted them, and students started talking about them. So now most of our elementary school classrooms have them, and there are several in our middle school and high school. Everybody now wants them."

Joyce Jech, principal of the Marrs Elementary School, said her schools students love to use the SMART Boards for such subjects as math, reading, social studies, and science.

"I was really leery about it at the beginning," Jech said. "But it's been really good."

Jech said she is looking forward to getting a SMART Board in each classroom. "We started out with a few teachers trying it out," she said. "Now they all want one, all the way through kindergarten. We maybe have only five classrooms without one at this point. In our new kindergarten classrooms, everybody keeps asking, are we going to get them? Are we going to get them?"

With the acquisition of ConXts, Peak UpTime instantly got an approximately 20 percent share of Oklahoma's education market in the kindergarten through twelfth grade segment, said Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime.

Most of that market is centered around Tulsa, which is where ConXts was based, Strasheim said. "We're looking to broaden our education business around the state and into Oklahoma City," he said.

Flake is very passionate about the education market, Strasheim said.

"It's not youthful exuberance, but he really believes in what he does," he said. "When you see the impact of SMART Boards in the classroom, it's exciting. It's not at all like when we were kids with chalkboards.

Williams said the time is quickly coming when everybody will be carrying a laptop, and it is important for schools to be ready.

"The day of the paper tablet is going," he said. "There was a time when people resisted pencil and paper because they thought it was a big waste of paper. Then when pens replace pencils, people said it was a waste of ink."

Williams said he would also like to see the end of paper textbooks, which cost the district $50 to $75 each to purchase new every three or six years, totaling about $300,000 per year for the entire district.

Replacing those paper books with laptops would also benefit the schools in one other important area: getting rid of student lockers.

"We can use technology to get rid of lockers," he said. "There'd be no place for students to keep a gun, or meet with their girlfriends and kiss. I'd love to get rid of lockers. That's a good thing."