While COVID-19 required districts to introduce eLearning and new technology to help staff and students be successful, most were delaying the purchase and implementation of new administrative software systems. Districts found themselves allocating funds to cleaning and safety measures and new tools for digital learning. Due to the pandemic, the last thing on most administrators’ minds was moving to a new SIS at a time that was already causing so much chaos for K-12 schools.
For Monroe County School District in Madisonville, Tennessee, about an hour southwest of Knoxville, the transition to a new SIS was just about to begin. With board approval to switch to a new SIS provider in February 2020, about a month prior to the nationwide shutdown, the district decided to move forward and implement Skyward.
For Brooke Johannsen, student, family, and employee services coordinator at Monroe County School District, switching to Skyward was a necessity. As the person responsible for handling attendance for more than 5,000 students and overseeing reporting, Johannsen knew the district needed a better way to communicate effectively with families and an easier system to meet their reporting needs. With a pandemic in the mix, having a new SIS was crucial to help Monroe address the unknowns ahead.
"No one expected a pandemic to occur, but as our schools shut down, our conversion and conversations with Skyward ramped up"
Support key to successful implementation
Excited to kick off the 2020-2021 school year with a new SIS, Monroe County School District had just began working with Skyward’s project management team to understand implementation deadlines. Then, the pandemic hit.
With everyone forced to work from home, a shift in mindset was needed to effectively make sure the conversion still met deadlines for a go-live for the 2020-2021 school year.
“No one expected a pandemic to occur, but as our schools shut down, our conversion and conversations with Skyward ramped up,” said Johannsen. “Until July, every single training I did was from home."
With the increased time spent converting to Skyward, the district also addressed the added difficulty of doing everything remotely while being physically separated from their team. Without the human interaction of being in the office during the majority of their transition, Johannsen was worried about the implementation going smoothly. At one point she didn’t think it would happen at all due to the additional stress of reopening the district’s schools and the other tasks she had to oversee.
“I spent a lot of time from March through August training, preparing for, and working on our conversion,” said Johannsen. “Our project manager was incredible. She checked in with me every week, made sure the trainings were going well, and helped facilitate anything I needed. With her help, we were able to reach timeline goals that were quicker than the original project goals, and things went smoother than we had hoped.”
The key to a successful implementation was the support the district received from their project manager and trainers at Skyward. Although virtual, the trainings were informative with friendly and helpful staff.
“My experience with Skyward has been nothing but positive,” said Johannsen. “Every trainer I had was excellent, everyone went and has continued to go above and beyond to help me, and any time I have a question, they have responded quickly and followed up to make sure the answers worked.”
Once the conversion to Skyward was complete, the next step was getting district staff prepared to use their new SIS. To successfully complete this, district staff explored a variety of ways to learn the intricacies of Skyward. Taking advantage of all the training resources Skyward offered helped the team get up and running.
“Some of our staff learned from the professional development center (PDC) and peer to peer, while others learned from trial and error,” said Johannsen. “No one likes change, and definitely not during a year when so much was asked of educators, but the transition has gone well.”
Although implementing virtually wasn’t expected when Monroe County School District initially purchases Skyward, the experience worked out in the district’s favor.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation to learn everything virtually when I started, but it ended up working out very well,” explained Johannsen. “All of my Skyward trainers ended up feeling like family, though I’m sure I ended up feeling like the crazy relative who had a thousand questions.”
"Our project manager was incredible. She checked in with me every week, made sure the trainings were going well, and helped facilitate anything I needed. With her help, we were able to reach timeline goals that were quicker than the original project goals, and things went smoother than we had hoped."
SIS assists district and families during pandemic
After the initial roll-out of Skyward at the district and getting staff settled into using the software, Monroe County School District found many unanticipated tools that quickly became their favorites.
“One of the greatest benefits of using Skyward so far has been, according to our teachers, the ease of posting grades and the ability to send reports and find student demographic data, said Johannsen. Having everything in one place where it is easily accessible for each class has been wonderful. From a district side, the ability to import and export, along with data mining, are my very favorite features.”
For district staff, taking attendance and running reports were huge modifications from their previous SIS, but district employees at Monroe County School District took this challenge head-on and adapted well.
To help cope with the pandemic, Monroe County school District decided to implement a hybrid learning system for the 2020-2021 school year, which also required them to implement 1:1 technology in grades 5-12. Skyward assisted by being the communication hub for all these new changes in the district. Because of this, the district was able to keep their promise to find ways to reach students, even when the education environment faced circumstances that weren’t ideal, such as quarantines and remote learning.
“From Chromebooks, virtual learning, and online meetings to Google Classroom and remote learning days, we have seen a rise in the use of education technology at a very quick rate,” said Johannsen. “The Skyward Family Access platform helps us to do that for our families and for our students.”
"Any district considering Skyward should take advantage of all of the training, and to be open with your Skyward trainers and project manager"
With the first year of Skyward under their belts and most of the nuances worked out, Monroe County School District is eager to make some adjustments in their use of the software for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Any time you do a conversion, you learn throughout the first year what the tips and tricks are, as well as the ‘fancy things’ you want to do going forward,” said Johannsen. “I look forward to putting more information into our Family Access, finding other things to assist our teachers with, and implementing as many of Skyward’s Student Management Suite features as we can.”
Another goal for the upcoming school year for Monroe County School District is to help their users become even more proficient with their Skyward platform by expanding its use into areas they might not have yet considered. From a data standpoint, the district would love to see at least 75% of district families using Skyward Family Access.
“We also hope to fully implement Skyward’s connection to Google so we can have Skyward ‘talk’ to our Google Classrooms,” said Johannsen.
For districts considering a move to Skyward, Johannsen encourages reaching out to others who are already using the system to ask what is working for them. Finding school districts with similar demographics is especially helpful.
“Any district considering Skyward should take advantage of all of the training, and to be open with your Skyward trainers and project manager,” said Johannsen. “They are there to help, and they will definitely do so!”
Monroe County School District is proof that anything is possible with the right mindset. Even when faced with challenges, implementing Skyward remained top of mind, and the district has not looked back. Though it was not an easy time with the challenges of the pandemic, Monroe County School District was able to conquer a conversion remotely and go live with their new SIS.