For large districts, an across-the-board technology change can be intimidating. Administrators often face pushback from veteran employees, making the transition more difficult. But when 21st century tools replace outdated technology, the entire district benefits from improved student outcomes and increased efficiencies.
Lake County School District, located about 35 miles outside Orlando, Florida, needed to select a new technology solution to meet its student and business management needs, including state reporting and system maintenance. After decades using an antiquated system, administrators finally prepared to transition to a new provider.
“Our current software at the time was at ‘end-of-life,’” said Harris Jacobs, Lake County’s IS manager. “We used it for 30-plus years and needed to move forward with a GUI-based system instead of text-based. Our maintenance costs for the system had continued to grow, and we got nothing for those dollars.”
Jacobs and other administrators knew their long-standing provider was years away from making any major changes to its product. “We knew it would be a while before we could upgrade,” he said. “What pushed us over the edge was the [high] price on the ‘new release’ that had not yet been pushed out.”
"IT USED TO TAKE US THREE DAYS IN THE PAST, AND NOW IT ONLY TAKES ONE."
After exploring several options through discussions and demonstrations, the district narrowed its choices to two providers. The union of the business and student management applications was an important factor in their eventual decision.
“We really wanted the integration of the two systems,” said Dr. Creed Wheeler, Lake County’s CIO. “As we searched for systems and talked to our colleagues at other districts, what it really came down to was that Skyward already handled multiple districts and state reporting in Florida, and Skyward’s solution has student and business management integrated. We didn’t want to copy from one system to the other.”
State reporting was another necessary feature. “I don’t think it can really be understated for us, the importance of the state reporting component,” said Operations Manager Heather Hamilton. “There are a lot of student information systems out there, but the fact that Skyward has the state reporting component was key in the decision – especially because Florida is unique with its reporting.”
Lake County administrators selected Skyward’s School Management System, which integrates the Student Management Suite and School Business Suite, to achieve their goals.
Partnership throughout the transition
Administrators chose to implement the School Business Suite first, with the Student Management Suite to follow. Skyward representatives visited the district to train staff members for three consecutive weeks during the business portion of the changeover. The district did have some initial difficulty gaining buy-in from staff members who were accustomed to the previous system, but that came over time.
“The consulting and onsite training were absolutely marvelous,” Jacobs said. “We had a great bunch of folks, and we conducted multiple training sessions. If we had anything to do over again, it would be to add more sessions and more training.”
Jacobs was also happy with the assistance he received from Skyward’s project management team. “The project manager for both conversions was absolutely great,” he said. “Any concern that we brought up was her concern, and she worked to resolve any issues.”
Hamilton shared similar thoughts about her experience with the student management side of the transition. “Although we did have some issues, there was not a person who I have worked with – who came on site – who has not been very professional, knowledgeable and just very good to work with.”
Jacobs added, “From the business perspective, I think we got Skyward’s A-team.”
"GRADE REPORTING IN SKYWARD HAS SAVED US A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF OVERTIME WITH OUR IT STAFF."
Improved business operations
On the business side, Wheeler explained some of the advantages of the new solution. “We continue to do more and more of our business online, including transactions with parents and employees,” he said.
Jacobs detailed the benefits for employees. “With the advent of Employee Access, which we did not have anything like before, the employee becomes self-sufficient,” he said. “Employees can get check stubs, W2 information, and no more paper checks are printed."
“We had about 860 employees that still got a paper check before, and 53 sites to ship them out to,” Jacobs added. He is looking forward to getting even more out of the School Business Suite in the future. “We are also in the process of implementing Time-Off and TrueTime modules.”
Lake County administrators are also looking forward to taking advantage of Skyward’s School-Based Activity Accounting in 2016. This will provide needed safeguards against fraudulent activity and will ensure proper documentation, two capabilities their former system lacked.
Jacobs said additional year-end processes, including inventory and purchasing, have been made easier with the new business solution, and there's no longer a need to use third-party systems for certain processes.
“Before, it was a multistep process to print a purchase order,” Jacobs explained. “It used to take us three days in the past, and now it only takes one.”
Better student management
Since implementing Skyward’s Student Management Suite, Hamilton said the district has enjoyed process improvements. “In the state of Florida, we have end-of-course exams,” she explained. “With the old system, it took weeks of work to get all the data correctly translated to calculate the students’ grades. Skyward’s end-of-course process is delightful.”
“This is the first time ever we’ve had an integrated gradebook,” she added. “That has significantly changed how schools handle grades, and it calls for greater accountability in the schools and for our teachers.”
Jacobs also recalled challenges posed by the previous software. “The old system required a lot of uploads and downloads on a daily basis,” he said. “When a teacher puts a grade in now, the parent can see it right that second. With our old system, it would probably be the next day or day after before parents could see a grade or attendance. Having Family Access with the integrated gradebook is a great attribute.”
"EVERY WEEK I HEAR FROM [AN EMPLOYEE] HOW GREAT SKYWARD IS AND HOW IT'S MADE THEIR LIFE EASIER."
All in all, Lake County administrators are happy with the results of their transition to the School Management System and look forward to continued enhancements and future success.
“I hope our relationship with Skyward continues to blossom and bloom,” Wheeler said. “I would especially recommend the Student Management Suite and School Business Suite because of the support behind the systems.”
Jacobs, a 29-year veteran in the education field, shared feedback he’s received from employees. “Many have been at the district for a number of years, and so they were averse to change from the start,” he explained. “But every week I hear from one of them how great Skyward is and how it’s made their life easier. So as the comfort level grows, the confidence starts to come.”
Lake County administrators now have heightened expectations for their technology investments. They look forward to the continuous progress that has been made possible through their partnership with Skyward.
“I would recommend Skyward because I think it’s going to get even better,” Hamilton said. “They are just really great to work with, and I just can’t say enough good things about them.”
Follow-up resource: K-12 Information Management Systems
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