Forsyth County Schools Leverage Technology

Feb 9, 2021

Forsyth County Schools have earned a reputation for excellence in education and technology. As the seventh-largest district in Georgia, they serve more than 51,000 students representing 124 countries and 52 languages. FCS  operates 39 schools, including 22 elementary, ten middle schools, seven high schools, and plans to open three new schools by 2022.

Exceptional Leadership, Open Communication, and Teamwork Create a Culture of Progress

Next year, however, FCS will open four new sites. “It’s going to require a lot of coordination with our desktop team and with facilities and various other departments that historically don’t work together daily.”

E-Rate Reimbursements, Budgeting and Planning

FCS — a higher socioeconomic district — receives a 40 percent E-Rate reimbursement for eligible purchases. “We like to plan so that when we get the reimbursement, we’re able to look at those funds and plan the next E-rate project. When we get the 40 percent back, we add some to it. Now, we’re using that same E-Rate discount to buy the next group of important infrastructure upgrades, and we continue to do that. It just seems to really work,” Fleming explains.

Read our recent blog post to learn more about the current state of E-Rate.

Forsyth County Schools don’t take technology investments lightly. Often, the team works with Lockstep Technology Group to assist with decisions.

Additionally, they bring in the products and conduct a pilot test from anywhere from a month to a year to ensure it meets their needs before committing to a purchase.

FCS have long been using digital learning to supplement classroom learning. For example, the district eliminated incremental weather days and have used online learning to substitute those days. However, online learning doesn’t come without its challenges.

“We knew that would be a challenge. And we have done all that we can by configuring our services accordingly. We’ve worked with our instructional technology department to give Chromebooks or internet hotspots to those who need those devices. Even though we’re a high socioeconomic district, that doesn’t mean that every student has the same opportunities. So, we’ve had to coordinate with them to make sure we have a fair distribution of resources so that learning can continue.”

For efficiency, the FCS IT team also created a video library of brief tutorials to show staff how to use common elements of their technology suite, whether that’s software, hardware, a new application, or a process they’re implementing. “We’ve used videos to instruct our users, and they’ve loved them. They’ve been able to get on board with applications much more rapidly than they otherwise have.”

Tim Fleming, Director of Technology Services at Forsyth County Schools

FCS has been partnering with Lockstep for more than 15 years. They worked on auditing their security practices and policies to align with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  “We’ve been working on that for eight or nine months, and we’re making huge gains and finding holes that we didn’t know existed,” says Fleming. “We’re able to find those vulnerabilities and plug them. It’s really been amazing, the work that we’ve done with Lockstep, and I’m blown away as far as we’ve come.”

Cybersecurity training and awareness for staff and students, such as Digital Citizenship Programs, help instruct how to identify potential threats. “We’ve been working with our staff and students to become human firewalls,” Fleming said. “We’re trying to teach them how to catch things that are abnormal and stop it from getting a foothold and hurting the district.” Godwin also produced a 5-minute video about the most critical factors about cybersecurity. “As good as technology is,” Godwin states, “It’s never as good as human intelligence.”

One approach that FCS requires is that decisions are made based on data. “Don’t just make decisions because it’s something you think is cool, or something you think is right, you got to have data to back it.”

An exciting project FCS has been working on for a couple of years is its student dashboard. The team looked at all the different data that the school has access to, such as Microsoft, Google, and the student information system. They brought these data sources together into an analytics dashboard that delivers insight into how students perform across the board.

The dashboard highlights data points, such as grades, attendance, and student discipline. Fleming points out, “It’s tough for districts to look at the total picture of a student because there are so many little pieces of the puzzle that live elsewhere. So we were able to bring all that together and see if they’re on track for graduation.”

This year, collaborating with Microsoft, they not only looked at creating a data warehouse and the ability to look at that data but doing predictive analytics where they looked at ten years of student data. “We push the data through machine learning, and we said, ‘look at all the students who graduated. Look at the kids that didn’t graduate and find patterns between the two [groups].’”

Once the team could use machine learning to predict whether students were on the path to graduation, they ran all of their current students through the system. What they came up with was incredible. “We found a model that’s about 96 percent accurate on predicting whether these students are going to graduate or not graduate, and the system lists out things that it saw hurting [the at-risk students].” Counselors, principals, and assistant principals can say, “Here are the things we need to work on, and here are the things that are going right for you that we need to capitalize on.”

Fleming emphasizes that Forsyth County, their board, their directors, and superintendent care about the students immensely. “That’s our heart – to help them be successful. Now, we found the tool that finds kids who really need our help. The data will tell you where you need to work harder – where your holes are. Find the data, pull it together, and find ways to use that data to make differences in the lives of kids.”

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