For more than 18 years, Dover Area School District, located northwest of York, Pennsylvania, used the same student information system. While being familiar with their existing solution provided comfort to staff, district leadership sensed that their system was not keeping pace with their needs. Inefficient processes and neighboring districts that were implementing more advanced systems led Dover to the decision that their current SIS needed to be replaced with a more future-ready system.
That change started with Brad Perkins, who arrived at the district in 2014. Almost immediately, Dover’s superintendent tasked Perkins with evaluating new SIS options. “We wanted to see the capabilities of what more advanced student information systems were offering. It was an opportunity for us to modernize,” said Perkins, now director of communications for the district.
Soon, Skyward’s Student Management Suite piqued the interest of Perkins and his colleagues. “Quite simply, we liked that Skyward was web-based and gave us the opportunity to host outside the district for security and maintenance reasons,” explained Perkins. To get a better look
at the solution, Perkins and the district’s director of career and technical education drove 30 minutes to see Skyward in action at Gettysburg Area School District. Not long after, Dover’s search ended and Skyward became the district’s new SIS partner in 2015.
But that’s just the beginning.
"REALLY, THE WHOLE SKYWARD TEAM HELPED MAKE IT MUCH EASIER THAN I HAD EXPECTED."
While most districts, including Dover, go into a transition expecting a few surprises, Perkins was delighted by the unexpected positive outcomes the district experienced with Skyward.
Dover had merely set out to modernize its system and streamline processes, but the district ended up with a strong support team, better user experience, and helpful resources as bonuses.
As Dover’s staff acclimated themselves to their new solution, they quickly found that the people behind Skyward’s SIS were vital to overcoming any first-year implementation challenges. Perkins worried that Skyward’s project managers wouldn’t live up to the deep-seated standards he had set at previous jobs. “I spent 16 years at major corporations managing big projects, so I had my doubts before talking to the Skyward team,” he explained.
Fortunately, Skyward’s project managers put any concerns to rest after meeting with Perkins. The team’s attention to detail and extensive knowledge of the implementation process impressed Perkins, providing Dover employees with comfort and confidence. “It’s incredible how Skyward’s project managers alleviated any doubts that existed considering that our staff was undergoing a new experience after 18 years,” stated Perkins.
Just as significant, Skyward’s consulting and support team helped Dover’s staff members to step back and re-examine their processes. While special configuration wasn’t needed to align the system with Dover’s needs, the district recognized that using Skyward presented the perfect opportunity to evaluate how they could modernize processes.
Among many improvements, Dover decided to implement the ability for families to manage their data, such as phone numbers and e-mails, as well as place schedules in Skyward’s Family Access portal. Both processes were new to stakeholders and improved how the district operated.
“The consulting team helped us reflect on whether we were doing processes to be efficient or if we were doing them because of the limitations of our previous system,” explained Perkins.
Moreover, Skyward’s training team helped Dover reduce its learning curve. Most notably, trainers ensured the professional development center (PDC) was rolled out properly, setting up the district’s staff for long-term success. Continuing the preparation, Skyward trainers visited Dover for a technology day during its in-service to answer questions from staff and provide hands-on learning.
“Really, the whole Skyward team helped make it much easier than I had expected,” stated Perkins. “From project management initially setting expectations and answering questions to having a consulting team provide new improvements, we focused more on our stakeholders and less on software concerns.”
"YOU START TO REALIZE THE VALUE OF INTUITIVE SOFTWARE ONCE YOU TRY TO REPLACE A PREVIOUS SYSTEM INGRAINED IN INDIVIDUALS FOR 18 YEARS."
After going live with Skyward, Dover found many pleasant surprises within the solution. Most notably, Skyward’s user experience impressed the district. Although features and functionality were at the forefront of Dover’s decision to choose Skyward as its SIS, the district still valued how stakeholders would experience a new system going forward. “You start to realize the value of intuitive software once you try to replace a previous system ingrained in individuals for 18 years,” stated Perkins.
Likewise, Skyward’s SIS added a new dimension to how families and students interacted with the district. Before, elementary school parents could only access grades or update information such as their e-mail address by making calls to the school offices.
With Skyward, communication among parents, students, and teachers became second nature. “We needed buy-in from our families,” explained Perkins. “That’s why creating opportunities for students and parents to communicate better with the school district was not only an investment financially, but also an investment in the importance of the experience.”
Digging deeper into the features Skyward offered, Dover found a treasure trove of additional capabilities. Specifically, Perkins worked with PIMS data, where he found Skyward’s state reporting solution to be beneficial. “I’ve been living the dream the last couple of days,” explained Perkins. “State reporting can be messy, but with Skyward it’s slick. It’s a very well-done feature.”
As an added benefit, Perkins and his staff have enjoyed SkyDoc, where districts can view state reporting manuals for PIMS data elements. “When we are looking at a file with a lot of fields, it’s been a real blessing to have resources that tell us where a field is pulling from, especially with it being our first year,” explained Perkins.
In retrospect, Perkins wouldn’t change much if given the chance to do it all over again. “While the move to a new SIS is a huge change, transitioning to Skyward was much easier than I had ever expected.”
By making the switch to Skyward, Dover achieved exactly what it had set out to do: find a future-ready SIS and streamline processes. Along the way, the district modernized itself and ended up with more improvements than it had ever anticipated when it began its search for a new SIS. “This entire process can be summed up as a plethora of surprises,” explained Perkins. “Skyward’s SIS and staff opened our eyes to what we had been missing all along.”
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