Southwest Secondary Learning Center (SSLC) and the Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics, and Science Academy (SAMS) are sister schools located in New Mexico, that bring charter school education options to middle and high school students across Albuquerque. Utilizing a blend of online and hands-on learning to motivate and educate students, including a focus on STEM skills and the integration of technology, service-learning and personal responsibility, SSLC and SAMS offer progressive and specialized educations.
Customized education programs at SSLC and SAMS academies require a customized IT plan to support cyber learning, student accessibility and parent/teacher/student interactions.
SSLC/SAMS Academies were facing a myriad of productivity and security issues with their local email exchange and processes, and needed a Microsoft expert to help elevate their technologies to match their progressive education. After being unable to find a technology partner to provide them with adequate support, SSLC and SAMS went searching for an official Microsoft partner with deep expertise in exchange servers and found that Cognizant Microsoft Business Group was the best fit to help them with consultation services and improvements across a number of projects.
With two campuses and 850 seats 30 miles apart, but both operating on separate exchange servers, the disparate environments made it difficult for administrators to manage. Further, the school was struggling with complying to the Children’s Internet Protection Act which requires that K–12 schools and libraries in the United States use Internet filters and implement other measures to protect children from harmful online content. Without adhering to the Act, SSLC and SAMS academies were facing penalizations and a loss of federal funding, as complying to the Act is a prerequisite for receiving some federal education funds.
Managing student and faculty lifecycles were also time-consuming and tedious. With no automated processes in place, new students and exiting students had to be manually added to the server, including the manual creation of a home folder, creation of mailboxes and updates with proper licensing.
SSLC and SAMS were looking to update and streamline their operations, maintain proper governance and offer greater online protection and accessibility to students and staff.
Cognizant Microsoft Business Group helped SSLC and SAMS academies assess their current state and align their technologies to their progressive style of cyber and STEM-focused education.
Cognizant Microsoft Business Group offers SSLC and SAMS deep exchange support, which began with a migration from separate local exchange servers to one shared Office 365 environment. This allows IT administrators from each campus to control and manage both campus environments, when needed.
From there, Cognizant Microsoft Business Group developed a set of automation commands to cut down on time taken to add and remove students and staff from the Office 365 environment. Experts wrote a customized Powershell script to add students, create their necessary folders and mailboxes and automate the required licensing.
The biggest governance concerns for the academies was to implement a proper compliance piece for The Child Internet Protection Act, along with the need to keep data in public folders secure. Unfortunately, Office 365 does not house standard filters that satisfy the security requirements. Cognizant Microsoft Business Group was able to build custom comprehensive filters that monitor student emails and filter incoming possible threats and dangerous online content. They also were able to add restrictions to public folders to lock down sensitive information.
One of the things that impresses me about Cognizant Microsoft Business Group is the level of Microsoft expertise they possess. Lots of companies advertise that they have expertise, but finding someone who has hands-on comprehensive experience beyond just certifications and is willing to investigate and solve problems is so valuable to us. Cognizant Microsoft Business Group handles everything for us, and nothing ever gets sent to an outsource.Carol Jester | IT Administrator | SSLC/SAMS Academies
Cognizant Microsoft Business Group’s solutions for the academies changed the way they operate and relieved the stress of the IT staff, freeing them up to focus more on classroom learning IT and special projects. Office 365 brought a hybrid cloud environment to the schools, allowing them better self-service and accessibility to everyone on campus, with more mobility and flexibility, but also retaining control to monitor student emails and filter messages appropriately. Managing this task was cumbersome for IT staff, and Cognizant Microsoft Business Group’s solution reduced the work load from hours to minutes, and automation has saved labor costs and reduced errors.
The custom-built filtering script has enabled SSLC and SAMS to easily provide proof of CIPA compliance and rest-assured that their students are safe from threats. This includes messaging filters that hold student emails in a mail holding pen until they are reviewed by administrators. This used to consist of manually checking messages one by one, but the filtering system reduced that to only a few dozen per day that need manual checks.
Microsoft’s Office 365, along with Cognizant Microsoft Business Group’s competence with the full Microsoft stack of technologies has helped to progress SSLC and SAMS academies to match their progressive education with the IT tools and services that they need to succeed as a modern educational institution.