Phillips Exeter Academy
Why the country’s top-ranked boarding school chose RingCentral MVP to communicate, collaborate, and educate
RingCentral has made our faculty more accessible to students and parents, enabled our core teams to work remotely, and even helped us stay in contact with quarantined students on campus. The list of benefits we’re seeing from this solution seems endless.
Director of IT
reduction in phone lines needed for each faculty member
communication platforms consolidated onto the unified RingCentral solution
Providing unparalleled high school education for centuries
On its list of “50 Best Boarding Schools in the United States,” TheBestSchools.org lists Phillips Exeter Academy at number one. After learning about the unique opportunities available to students attending this residential high school—which has been operating since 1781—it’s easy to understand why.
Exeter offers students a wide range of educational tracks—more than 450 courses, across 19 subject areas—built around an immersive learning experience, with a student-to-teacher ratio of just 5:1. The academy has also been called an unofficial feeder school for Harvard and other prestigious universities for decades.
The school’s commitment to educational excellence is so strong, in fact, that when they found themselves underwhelmed with the prevailing methodologies for educating young people, the team at Exeter developed their own: the Harkness method. Almost a century later, this innovative, discussion-based approach to teaching is widely used in many other boarding schools and even in colleges.
But with their campus telephony system increasingly behaving like it was as old as the school itself, Exeter’s IT team began looking for a more modern communications solution.
A communications infrastructure that required an advanced degree to manage
Scott Heffner, Exeter’s IT Director, explains that the school’s communications environment had grown organically over time and was ready for an overhaul. “We had an on-prem PBX, which was past end-of-life, a separate system for voicemail, and other solutions—each from different vendors—for call recording, call accounting, audio conferencing, and video conferencing.”
Growing frustrated at having to pay enormous amounts for hard-to-find desk phones that would connect with the old PBX, various systems failing, and the need to maintain multiple phone lines for faculty members, Scott recalls that the whole team agreed it was time for a change.
One solution capable of doing what used to require six
As Scott explains, rolling out the unified cloud communications solution RingCentral MVP (Message, Video, Phone) solved many of his team’s IT challenges immediately. But equally important, he says, were the workflow improvements the new solution enabled.
“One of the first things we saw was that our teachers were now more accessible than ever to students and their families,” he says. “We used to have two landlines for every faculty member—one in their dorm study, the other in their classroom. That led to a lot of missed calls and voicemails. With RingCentral, our teachers can now use their school phone number from anywhere, on any device.”
With COVID, our faculty needed to stay connected to students and parents, but we didn’t want them giving out their personal numbers. RingCentral took care of that. Our teachers can use RingCentral on their computers or mobile phones to talk and text—and it all happens through their Exeter phone number.
Director of IT
Additionally, Scott notes, the faculty and staff can use RingCentral for other types of communication that used to require standalone solutions. “We’re using the RingCentral platform for conference calls, video conferences, SMS texting, even recording phone calls,” he says. “Given the fact that we all had to go remote so suddenly, and we still needed to stay connected during that time, I don’t know how we would’ve done it if we didn’t find RingCentral.”
Finding ingenious ways to improve operations with RingCentral
“We found a way to use the Ring Group feature to make our campus safer,” Scott says. “Our campus safety team has three locations. By creating a Ring Group, we’re able to have those safety lines forward to any or all the phones at every location.”
In fact, Scott says, Exeter has found many other creative uses for RingCentral to improve both the school’s internal operations and the service it provides to students.
“We had students who needed to be quarantined after coming in contact with a COVID-positive person. The Academy rented trailers to create quarantine dorms—and placed them in [HSR1] an area of campus where we couldn't run traditional phones. Fortunately, we didn’t have to. With RingCentral, we were able to set up digital phones in those dorms to give our quarantine dorm nurses the ability to stay in contact with our Health Center at all times.”
And when the stress of the lockdowns, remote learning, and the pandemic itself took a toll on some Exeter students, the school’s Counseling and Psychological Services team found itself needing to find a way to offer those students care—even from a distance. As Scott explains, RingCentral Video provided the answer.
RingCentral Video allowed our school counselors to have secure sessions with students struggling with COVID and the stress of distance learning. It was invaluable to know that we had a HIPAA-compliant solution and were protecting our students’ privacy, while still getting them the help they needed.
Director of IT