Achieving success with any new technology requires three key elements: a willingness to change, buy-in from staff, and a well-designed plan. Fortunately, the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, Indiana, had all of those in place when they implemented Skyward’s mobile app during the 2015-16 school year.
The district moved to Skyward’s Student Management Suite in 2015 after using a different SIS for the previous 12 years. While their legacy system was still functional and staff members were comfortable with it, the leaders at Wayne Township knew they needed something better to improve communication with students and parents.
“The SIS we had before Skyward was pretty one dimensional and it didn’t really have any communication tools associated with it,” said Pete Just, chief technology officer at Wayne Township. “The product hadn’t kept pace with technology and it was becoming increasingly difficult for us to communicate anything beyond basic grades and attendance.”
"SKYWARD'S MOBILE APP GIVES US THE ABILITY TO EQUALLY SERVE ALL OF OUR FAMILIES."
According to Just, when the district moved to Skyward, the teachers immediately jumped on board to take advantage of the opportunities that were available through the software’s Family Access portal. In addition, having the ability to reach parents on their mobile devices proved to be a real game-changer for staff and families alike.
“Our district has a pretty large percentage of its population living in poverty, so many don’t have computers or connectivity at home,” said Just. “Most of our families have mobile technology such as smartphones, but they really didn’t have access to our data because it wasn’t easily viewed on those devices. Skyward’s mobile app gives us the ability to equally serve all of our families because of the deep level of communication that’s now available between our staff and our parents.”
The benefits of using Skyward’s mobile app to share information across the district were felt right away. According to Just, communication with students grew by leaps and bounds, even though many students don’t have data plans at home.
“Almost all of the kids carry a smartphone today, so they simply hop on our wireless to keep track of their grades,” said Just. “And since everything is available in real time, there’s no more waiting until the next day for grades to be posted for students to see them. Now, as soon as a teacher makes a change, that change is available instantaneously, which is a major benefit.”
Using the mobile app has also provided a new level of transparency, which has improved the district’s relationships with students and parents. Raising teachers’ awareness of the importance of students’ grades to families was an unexpected benefit the district would never have uncovered had they stayed with their old system.
Looking beyond email
Moving to the new system has opened the district’s eyes to exploring alternatives to email as the go-to vehicle for communicating information to both staff and families. According to Just, the superintendent at the MSD of Wayne Township is an avid Twitter user and often tweets throughout day. That type of communication has become routine for the staff and they feel that it’s a more effective way to share what’s happening throughout the district – and more efficient than emails and paper notes sent home with students.
Just pointed out that the district also uses Facebook for sharing success stories, photos and awards, and said many of the parents and nearly all of the secondary students follow the school and district using their mobile devices. Introducing the Skyward mobile app and social media resulted in fewer emails for staff and families to sift through and less chance for something important to slip through the cracks.
While the district doesn’t foresee a future without email, they have started to view it as more of an official form of communication – similar to how memos and faxes were used in the past.
“Our use of email is definitely diminishing because, let’s face it, everyone gets way too many emails and it becomes very difficult to weed through it all,” said Just. “There’s also the issue of spam and malware that is creating issues in terms of eroding trust, which make newer forms of communication more attractive to everyone.”
"OUR USE OF EMAIL IS DEFINITELY DIMINISHING."
Planning and promoting are essential
When asked about the challenges they faced when the district moved away from their outdated methods, Just immediately mentioned the importance of planning and promotion to ensure a successful implementation.
The district began cleaning up its data and notifying staff of what was coming a full year before putting the plan in motion. They communicated to parents and staff via newsletters, the website, and tweets – starting with broad, general messages and getting more specific in the spring as the transition grew closer.
“Throughout the entire process, we shared key milestones with everyone and then three weeks before school started, we mailed a letter to every parent letting them know how to log on,” said Just. “We also included a small refrigerator magnet with the web address as a constant reminder for parents. Once the school year started, we did a lot of ongoing communication through traditional and social media to keep Skyward top of mind with students and parents.”
Like all educators, the staff at MSD of Wayne Township understands the importance of having positive interactions between the school and home. Thanks to Skyward and a forward-thinking staff, the district has transformed the way it shares information and has no intention of ever going back to the old way of doing things.
“Smartphones and tablets have changed the way we get information,” said Just. “If you’re not taking advantage of that, then you’re totally missing the boat.”
Follow-Up Resource: Skyward Mobile Access
Ready to improve communications in your district? Check out our Mobile App!