Southern Arizona district brings historic schools into the 21st century

Tuscan Unified School District Customer Story

Published: May 1st, 2024

Founded in 1867, Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is the first district established in Arizona, 45 years before the territory became a state. Today, it’s the largest in Southern Arizona, educating more than 47,000 students at its 89 schools. But in recent years, this historic district has struggled with declining enrollment. Parents touring the schools would see rooms equipped with decades-old technology and be turned off from sending their kids there.

“We’re in a very competitive state when it comes to schools, and our kids get recruited by everybody—charter schools, private schools, A-rated schools on our boundaries that are brand new with beautiful campuses,” said Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education. “We just didn’t stack up.”

TUSD needed a technology overhaul to boost the educational experience and stay competitive in the education landscape. When funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) became available in response to the pandemic, the district was finally able to do more than limp along. “We had this windfall of money that could really make a significant impact on our classrooms, considering our technology was from 2003,” said Rowley. She and her team began planning a district-wide upgrade to get cutting-edge resources into classrooms.

Trusted partnerships drive monumental project

TUSD had been in partnership with Promethean for almost two decades, purchasing edtech when money was available. And throughout that time, Promethean continued to support those original Promethean devices.

We were approached by competitors, but with the level of support that we get, we made a conscious decision to go with Promethean. Knowing that we have support we could count on, that was the kicker for me.

Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education.

That loyalty and dependability convinced TUSD to stick with Promethean as its technology provider.

The district also had a longstanding relationship with Promethean’s local service partner, Premise One. Over the better part of nine years, Premise One had installed some of the old boards plus other technologies, like auditorium A/V equipment and security systems. More than 2,400 ActivPanel displays were slated for installation throughout the project, but many sites had complex circumstances to work through. “Other companies simply ship displays to the school’s door, leaving the installation and setup challenges to the district staff,” said Michael Anderson, Premise One account manager. “Our work takes away the complexity of setup, so teachers can walk into a fully integrated and functional panel in the classroom.” As the project got rolling, TUSD leaned on its partners.

Historic buildings bring unusual challenges

TUSD had been in partnership with Promethean for almost two decades, purchasing edtech when money was available. And throughout that time, Promethean continued to support those original Promethean devices.

This 150-year-old district has many unique buildings, and several are considered historic. As the first step of the district’s implementation plan, Rowley, her IT team, and partners from Premise One walked through every room at every site. “One school that was built in 1923 has adobe walls. We couldn’t put the panels on the walls because the walls couldn’t hold them. Those had to go mobile,” said Rowley. “And we had antique chalkboards. Who knew there was such a thing? Those rooms had to get over-the-wall mounts.”

Some administrators voiced doubts about the project because of these challenges, but Rowley convinced them it was essential. “You really have to think about what your end goals are and why you are doing it,” said Rowley. “That was what I had to vocalize.” To ensure successful installation, the team mapped where the panel would go and took meticulous notes on each classroom. 

Due to the way ESSER funds were dispersed, the installation was scheduled in phases. “When teachers started finding out about the new panels, there were people trying to jump to the top of the list,” said Shaun Taylor, Promethean partnership manager. But Rowley and her team were strategic about where the interactive displays would go, prioritizing rooms with projectors that didn’t work or boards that were out of warranty. “The project management Tracey went through to get this many panels rolled out—the planning, the preparation, the whole scope—was truly a force of nature,” said Taylor.

Premise One crews worked room to room at each school setting up panels. After two years of smooth work, the project is nearly complete. “This is far and away Tucson’s biggest technology effort,” said Anderson. “And there’s real benefits when working with a client we know so well. Familiarity with TUSD sites, logistics, and how we work together on technology projects over the years—all that makes it easier.” For Premise One, the benefit of strong relationships extends to its partnership with Promethean.

The panel is reliable, it’s well manufactured, and it’s the only technology we offer in the interactive edtech space,” said Anderson. “Promethean has been a fantastic partner over the years. Shaun and the whole team are always at the ready to support us when we need it.”

Michael Anderson, Premise One account manager

Managing 2,400 panels seamlessly and effectively

Rowley and her team are using Radix to help manage the district’s fleet of interactive displays from one central location, utilizing the admin management software to push out updates or help teachers with issues like internet connectivity. With so many school sites and devices, it would be difficult for the IT team to touch every ActivPanel and respond quickly to requests for help. “Radix has definitely been an effective use of our money because it’s made our lives more efficient,” said Rowley. “I’m glad we made that investment.”

Radix is also helping them extend the life of each ActivPanel. To prevent panels from being left on if a teacher forgets to turn theirs off at the end of the day, the IT team powers down the entire fleet at once through Radix. Rowley shared how she found out several panels went rogue after the displays were seen glowing from a school’s windows late one night. “I went in with Radix, and we got those to turn off at 5:00,” she said. “We’re lengthening the life of the panels because they only have so many hours, as well as saving energy.”

A huge pivot to a bright, future-forward classroom

Teachers eagerly stepped up with their new ActivPanel displays. The panels are changing how they teach and helping them increase the quality of instruction.

“What the teachers are doing with their lessons is more interactive, more participatory because they have the panels in their rooms. They’re not limited by an ancient projector with the pull-down screen. And its helped with classroom engagement because now the kids can see and hear. Kids are more engaged because there are opportunities for them to be involved.” – Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education

Tracey Rowley

Not only are the panels making a positive impact on teachers and students, but others are seeing the value of them, too. “We went from classrooms that looked like they’d been the same from 50 years ago, to now we’re in 2024,” said Rowley. “Prospective parents are walking in and noticing that we’re in the 21st century. We even got in the paper!” Rowley is quick to give credit to others, acknowledging her team and partners who helped make this happen. “There are so many people behind me that all made it work. It wasn’t easy,” she said. “But you walk around these schools and see the panel being used, see it happening, and it’s so rewarding.”