Educating Deep in the Heart of Texas

The community of Teague, Texas is taking full advantage of the satellite and Internet system available to its school district. This system allows access to electronic "field trips" for students and access to required continuing education coursework for teachers, administrators, and community members.

The Teague Independent School District is doing this with the help of an innovative program called the Texas School Telecommunications Access Resource, better known as T-STAR, which helps the more than 1000 Texas school districts across the state serve as educators of both students and the adult population.

This telecommunications network program has proven so successful in part because T-STAR and the Texas Education Agency chose to go with Avid for the technology behind it, says Scott Visser, T-STAR's chief engineer for educational technology.

"Avid's development of technology and use of application standards allow me to do what I'm doing each and every day. There's a lot of stuff out there that is not as user friendly. [The] Avid [system] is easy to troubleshoot, and it's clean, and that can make all the difference."

T-STAR's editors and producers agree. They create video content using four Avid NewsCutter nonlinear editors and all use the footage stored on an Avid Unity shared-storage system, customizing it for each school's program. They are able to create Web streaming formats, which can then be accessed by all the member districts on demand.

Rather than having to start from scratch each time, the Avid systems are modified or upgraded, Visser says he is able to work within the existing infrastructure. "We don't have to change a thing. It makes life really easy for me." This is especially important for an office that last year alone offered 185 training and development programs.

For John Lopez, director of the T-STAR Network, the Avid system allows his staff to concentrate on what they do best: content and programming. "Our focus has gained momentum toward the content rather than the technical side. Avid's technology has made the delivery faster and easier."

"This simplicity is especially important when working with school districts in both rural and urban Texas with all different degrees of connectivity," says Lopez. "From day to day, T-STAR staff members don't know what kind of system they will be utilizing, so they must be prepared for the different delivery systems," says Lopez. "School District A might be set up for the Internet while School District B does not have funding for it at all."

"Therefore, the equipment must be both scalable and easily adaptable so it can function properly for both a high-tech district like Houston and a smaller community like Teague. Everything comes down to the needs and resources of the individual school districts," says Lopez, whose staff needs are also met with the Avid systems. Editors and producers no longer have to worry about content replication. Using Avid's Trilligent Cluster, all servers have access to a single copy of content via a shared storage system. Therefore, there is no waiting for video content or down time.

Lopez and Visser and the T-STAR staff are able to deliver streaming media and other high-bandwidth content over the Internet, which works out to be both a time and money saver. Eventually, the plan is for all school districts to upgrade, but for now T-STAR keeps both analog and digital avenues open so that no one is left behind.

T-STAR started working with Avid systems about six years ago when it acquired a single Media Suite Pro system. About three years ago, it upgraded to the Avid Xpress system and added a second unit. Today, T-STAR has four NewsCutter systems along with an Avid Unity server and seven client seats.

For Lopez, the biggest and most welcome change was switching from linear to non-linear editing. "It's much easier now to make last-minute changes to the videos," he says. "The old linear systems would not allow you to make immediate changes unless it affected the quality or content. The new system is much faster and user-friendly, allowing us to concentrate on the programming content rather than the editing process."

In the words of Visser: "Avid rocks."


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