- Needed a camera solution to support a dynamic school environment
- Went through a rigorous evaluation process to find the right solution
- Improved student safety by solving and deterring incidents
Being an early adopter of new technology is never easy. It can require a lot of research, convincing skeptical colleagues, and sometimes risking reputations. But as Emily Geisel, Director of IT at Fairborn City Schools (FCS), knows, the reward can outweigh the risk. She recommended installing an innovative cameras solution that no other school district in southwest Ohio had deployed yet and convinced school principals, local law enforcement, building administrators, and school resource officers (SRO) that it was the right choice for their district. Her efforts paid off, and now, Cisco Meraki MV smart cameras are deployed across their middle and high schools, keeping students safer and more accountable, while giving power and time back to the administration.
Making the switch to a smarter camera system
Located in a rural area with 70% of their students in the free and reduced lunch program, FCS is required to do a lot with limited resources. Because of this, implementing new technology or upgrading systems had been deprioritized, leading to outdated or non-existent systems. But as technology continued to be integrated into learning initiatives, the school administration recognized that it was time to invest in new solutions that would improve learning, collaboration, and safety. One of the first major technology projects they decided to work on was security cameras.
FCS’s old security camera systems were not designed to support a dynamic school environment. Previously, building managers were in charge of physical security, so each school had a different camera systems. The middle school only had about15 cameras, which did not provide adequate coverage even when the cameras were working. The system was not easily scalable, as adding more cameras would require additional wiring, software, and licensing. Video from the cameras was stored on a server on site, which was a challenge as the school did not have air conditioning. The high school system was made up of about 20 cameras, but the video quality was so bad it was difficult to identify who was doing what when watching footage. Ultimately, Geisel and her 2 person IT-team decided it was time to get both schools on the same platform They wanted to find a solution that would not have a single point of failure, would be easier and more accessible for SROs to use, and improve security across the schools.
Before beginning the search, Geisel worked to understand how the camera system would be used by the SROs, local law enforcement, and school leaders. The most common use case discussed was student discipline, so it needed to be easy to access footage and find incidents. With ongoing staffing changes, the system also needed to be easy to learn for new hires and non-technical staff. With this in mind, Geisel evaluated seven different security camera solutions. After seeing a demo of Meraki MV smart cameras, she set one up in her office to try it for herself. Geisel was blown away by the ease of deployment and use, and she was able to train others on the system in just a few minutes. The next step was to sell the security team and school leaders on Meraki. They had concerns about the new technology, and questioned why Geisel wouldn’t chose a system that other nearby schools had implemented before. She pointed out the challenges that they had with servers required by on-premises systems, and the costs the district would save by not buying and maintaining a server. The local police department was quick to get on board once they saw how easy it was to access and view the video. “They looked at it and they were there like, we really like the Meraki solution. It's just so easy, and we have this app and can just log in. The police chief fully supported me going with the Meraki solution.” With the police department’s support, and some further persuasion from Geisel, the school district gave the approval to deploy Meraki cameras.
The schools are now blanketed with cameras, about 180 across the middle and high schools. They are in every corner – stairways, parking lots, hallways, cafeterias, outside, and all common spaces. FCS deployed a mix of indoor and outdoor cameras, with a couple MV32 360 degree cameras in some hallway converging points. The deployment was extremely easy – they installed the cameras in the middle school on a Friday, and they were up and running by Monday morning. Through the Meraki dashboard, Geisel configured and named all of the cameras as they were deployed, and could easily give the right access permissions to those who needed it.
Getting the full story
With a comprehensive camera system in place, students are now held accountable for their actions. After an incident occurs, the SRO can use the MV cameras to quickly understand what happened, and take the correct disciplinary measures. They no longer have to rely on conflicting stories from various students. The cameras have also proved an effective preventative measure, and incidents have already started to decrease. “My new nickname from the kids is mean IT lady because I put the cameras in and they can’t run wild now,” Geisel shared.
The cameras also help in unique ways to ensure student safety. One incident Geisel shared happened right after they installed the cameras at the middle school. Some kids were playing tag outside, and one of the students knocked his head. He went to the nurse, saying he had just bumped it, but she was skeptical. The nurse asked to take a look at the camera footage, and discovered he had been unconscious for a few minutes. Realizing the student needed to see a doctor, the team quickly exported the needed footage and sent it to the doctor for review.
So, what has been really good? I felt like any camera system would have been good. But this one came without the headaches. Emily Geisel, Director of IT, Fairborn City Schools
Changing Jobs With Innovative Technology
Not only does the camera system deter students from misbehaving and help administrators determine what happened after an incident, but it has also completely changed the way that principals, assistant principals, SROs, and the IT team work every day.
Before the camera system was in place, the assistant principals were part school leaders, and part crime scene investigators. When an incident occurred, they would spend hours interviewing students, comparing stories, and trying to piece elements together to determine what happened. With the new smart camera system, they can just watch the camera footage and immediately see the entire event. With the hours saved, staff has more time to focus on impactful projects and initiatives that improve student learning. “It's been a game-changer for our assistant principals. They're saving hours every single day by not having to figure out the truth from the ‘he said she said’ stuff. They can pull all the footage and see the full story every time,” Geisel shared.
I have time to be more of an instructional leader supporting both staff and students, as the camera's ability to capture all of this information has cut time spent investigating negative behaviors by at least 50%. Thank you, Meraki, for a fantastic product that saves time, and lets us continue our efforts in an integral part of students’ lives - educating them! Waylon Stegall Assistant Principal, Fairborn City Schools
In addition, the partnership between the IT team and the SRO’s has changed. They use to operate in silos, but now they work together as one team to move and adjust cameras, make configuration changes in the Meraki dashboard, and continue to scale the system. Geisel explained, “I was really good bonding for us, honestly because it was so easy.”
After the first two weeks of the camera deployment, the SROs, assistant principals, and others could easily use the cameras without help from IT. Geisel concluded, “I feel like it's giving power back to our administration. I can't stress enough how easy these things are. They feel very confident and with very minimal training from me, they can go out there and get footage, and they're able to do their jobs more efficiently.”