Empowering Educational Excellence: Keller ISD Seamlessly Transitions to Microsoft Solutions with Guidance from a Strategic Partner

Makayla Mota

As a trusted partner of Microsoft Education and a Global Training Partner, Connection specializes in customized solutions and services for educational institutions, bringing a wealth of experience to the education sector. Connection also provides technology solutions infused with Microsoft tools and services to propel digital transformation within school systems across North America.

The Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC) at Connection played a pivotal role in facilitating Microsoft Surface sales for Keller Independent School District when they transitioned from Google to Microsoft technologies under the leadership of new CTO, Matthew Vrlenich. Keller Independent School District (KISD) serves over 34,000 students across numerous cities and towns, spanning 51 square miles of land north of Fort Worth, Texas.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education technology, schools often find themselves reassessing the platforms they use to support teaching and learning. When Matt came on board at Keller ISD, it prompted a thorough evaluation of their technological infrastructure and budgetary considerations.

“Microsoft is just far superior to other companies in the market with their productivity tools,” Matt says. “In my opinion, as a long-time tech guy, Microsoft has just always been ahead of the game. And then the security side was the other big thing for me because when I walked in the door here, there wasn’t really a security plan. In the previous district I worked in, I had a lot of success integrating Microsoft Security into our environment to cut costs. Cybersecurity solutions are not cheap, and there are not EDU SKUs currently.”

Matt worked closely with Jennifer Price, Keller’s Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, throughout the transition, and the two relied heavily on Tiffani Collins, Business Development Manager at Connection, as they worked with Connection and the TIDC.

“Tiffani played an integral role in the success of this transition. She was so great. A lot of times your success on large implementations can live or die with your rep and she worked well with our Microsoft team facilitating both the connection and scheduling with the TIDC,” Matt says.

“The TIDC served as a pivotal piece of the Keller device refresh,” Tiffani says. “It served as a centralized hub ensuring efficient deployment of the 23,000 new devices in an efficient manner, ramping up or ramping down in conjunction with what the customer needed. One notable advantage that was highlighted by the CTO was the convenience of dealing with a single entity, rather than navigating multiple channels. The streamlined communication process fostered clarity and efficiency when the customer needed to address concerns, track progress, and obtain assistance—all through a single point of contact.”

Matt agrees, “I’ve done multiple large-scale deployments, and I have hit several road bumps along the way. What set Connection apart from other vendors on this project was that I could do everything in-house with one vendor. The operation that you guys do with the TIDC is so impressive. I’ve been doing this for a long time and that is one of the better operations I have seen from front to back.”

Another key factor in this successful transition was the inclusion of Microsoft Professional Development from Connection for both Keller’s instructional and administrative staff. Jennifer Price says, “I will say one of the smartest things that Matt did is he moved the tent from technology to curriculum and instruction, so that made a forced connection between the two departments. So, when ed tech came into our department, we started working with Connection, specifically Cindy Daniels, to create a strategic plan on groups that we were going to start training in the spring before the deployment.”

Keller took a strategic approach in training their administrative staff first, setting up a full day of training led by Cindy Daniels for the district’s administrative assistants, secretaries and librarians. Committed to empowering the district’s entire community, Connection collaborated closely with schools and leaders to design and implement customized solutions aligned with their goals—and that included beginning with the admin staff who are often overlooked in terms of training and are at the heart of the school community.

“If your office staff—your secretaries, your admin assistants, your librarians—buy in, that message spreads like wildfire,” Matt explains.

“We had two Connection Professional Development trainers because the group was so large,” Jennifer adds. “And what was awesome is they went back singing the praises of Microsoft. Saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to get this, and Microsoft does this, and we’re going to get this.’ I mean, they were doing the selling for us.”

The administrative training was quickly followed by full-day in-person training sessions for all curriculum and instruction departments including special education, fine arts, athletics, and facilities. They also hosted an “Administrator Retreat” with Principals, Assistant Principals, and District-level staff, which included a full rollout implementation training in July with all campus administrators.

“Transitioning from Google to Microsoft is a huge undertaking, and ensuring that all staff feel comfortable means equipping them with the skills to feel confident. That meant professional development needed to be involved,” Tiffani adds. “As a former teacher, I am very aware of the workload teachers have, and to make this transition smooth, teachers needed to be empowered and not overwhelmed. Teachers and staff were able to acquire new skills and adapt to different tools that will in turn make their day-to-day lives in front of students easier, leading to higher morale and retention. By emphasizing the importance of investing in employees’ growth through professional development, we were able to create a sense of ownership amongst the staff. Intentional PD is not just one or two days in a classroom, it is a lifelong experience that can ultimately lead to a stronger educational community.” 

In the end, Connection’s Sales team, Professional Development team, Product Management, Operations, Finance, and the TIDC all came together to facilitate what became the largest EDU and Microsoft Surface deal in Microsoft history—23,000 Surface devices provisioned with Windows Autopilot. Weekly Wednesday lunch meetings helped to keep the project on track by taking the time to check in with all parties involved and brainstorm what might be missing from the rollout plan. This collaborative working relationship was an integral part of the rollout’s success.

Connection distinguished itself by acting not only as a hardware and services provider, but also as a strategic partner committed to educational success. By showcasing the Professional Development expertise of Cindy Daniels and navigating challenges such as attaining Microsoft Cost Plus certification, Connection demonstrated its dedication to delivering a comprehensive solution within tight deadlines.

Through collaborative efforts, TIDC ensured a seamless transition, garnering support from board members and positioning the district for long-term success. The engagement highlighted Connection’s ability to provide tailored solutions and impactful professional development, prompting Matt to choose Connection as the preferred partner for future initiatives. The transition’s success can be attributed to the synergy between the district and Connection, as well as the meticulous planning and execution by all parties involved. Matt noted that without this cohesion, such a monumental task would have been impossible to accomplish within the allotted timeframe.

“Typically, you don’t do a Google to Microsoft conversion for a district this size and do a 23,000-device rollout in eight months—what we did together was unheard of—and without the support and collaboration with Connection it wouldn’t have been a success.”

Keller ISD proudly serves a vibrant community dedicated to nurturing student achievement and upholding our tradition of excellence in education. Spanning across portions of Colleyville, Fort Worth, Haltom City, Hurst, North Richland Hills, Southlake, Watauga, Westlake, and the entirety of Keller, our district caters to over 34,000 students. Encompassing 51 square miles, Keller ISD boasts the third-largest land area in Tarrant County. Keller ISD employs more than 4,000 staff members including just over 2,700 classroom instructional employees. Every member of the Keller ISD team is committed to delivering an outstanding educational journey for our students. Whether it’s through classroom instruction, maintaining our school facilities, or providing unwavering support and guidance, we prioritize ensuring an exceptional learning environment for all.

Makayla Mota is a Partner Marketing Specialist at Connection with a background in educational technology training on Microsoft solutions in the classroom. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, antiquing, hiking, and watching movies.