BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District on Monday launched Microsoft 365, ushering in a new set of technology tools for students and employees.
The new programs include the most up-to-date versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher and Lync. Students and employees can access the programs on multiple devices at home or at school, district officials said.
"This represents a monumental leap into the future in terms of technology for the school district," Superintendent Rick Mills said in a statement.
The district entered into an agreement with Microsoft Enrollment for Education Solutions to purchase the software. The agreement will also allow automatic updates to new software as long as the agreement is renewed each year. When a new update comes up, it will automatically be available on district computers that can support the software, said Mike Borysiewicz, the district's chief information officer.
The district spent about $330,000 for the first year of services.
Borysiewicz called the launch a "monumental step forward" for the district.
The program was launched in the summer to allow for proper training and to work out any hiccups. By Monday afternoon, a few employees had run into problems transferring contacts from the old email system into the new one, Borysiewicz said.
"We're writing those up and we've been able to solve each one individually," he said.
Employees can follow online tutorials and participate in in-person training, according to the district. Teachers and employees can also train and become familiar with the different system features from home.
Employees will still have access to the previous email system and software applications to help ease the transition.
The district has more than 37,000 computers, including a recent $6 million purchase of 6,139 "ThinkPad" computers for students. The district purchased the ThinkPad tablets at $425 each using district capital funds.
The convertible laptops/tablets will help satisfy online testing requirements and will be used for regular classroom instruction, officials said.
Many students will be familiar with the newer systems and operating software, Borysiewicz said. He called Microsoft Office a global standard that will better help students prepare to enter the workforce or continue on in higher education.
"When they walk out of this organization, they will be prepared to go anywhere," Borysiewicz said.
Borysiewicz is working on a plan to start phasing out some of the district's older hardware that may not be able to support new updates. Ideally, Borysiewicz said he'd like to replace computers every three years, since that's often when technology becomes outdated and can pose challenges.
"This is a multi-pronged approach," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.