Imagine for a moment that you are back in 1980. You are the superintendent of a school district and receive a knock on your door from a man developing a custom software solution. Your district is in need of a way to manage personnel and compute salary negotiations information, so you decide to take his offer. With this leap of faith, you become the first customer of Jim King & Associates.
Fast forward 40 years, and you are still an avid user of the company’s SIS/ERP software. You continue to upgrade your software and invest in new offerings from the company, which is now called Skyward.
This is the story of Merrill Area Public School District in Merrill, Wisconsin, located 50 minutes north of Skyward’s headquarters in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
While such a long-standing relationship can hardly be summed up in a few pages, the district's current superintendent, Dr. John Sample, and director of finance, Brian Dasher, have shared their take on the partnership to date.
"The biggest change in our experience with Skyward was moving from the PAC version to the web version,” said Sample. “Like anyone, I didn’t like having to make this change at first, but now the web version is so much better."
A Relationship Grounded in History
Keeping a 40-year business relationship in good standing doesn’t just happen. Over the years, Skyward has been committed to putting customers first, while simultaneously keeping its products and company future-ready.
From Jim King, Skyward founder and owner approaching Merrill and forging a successful relationship from the beginning, to ongoing product updates and notifications, to a committed sales representative who oversees their account by checking-in regularly, Skyward remains devoted to customers like Merrill. These efforts ensure districts are happy and taking advantage of the tools available to them.
Having worked with Skyward for over 15 years, eight years with Merrill Area Public School District, Sample has seen one of the company’s biggest evolutions firsthand—a change from a point-and-click (PAC) software method to web-based solution for their business and HR administrative needs.
"While administrative turnover happens, the relationship between Merrill Area Public School District and Skyward remains strong, said Sample. "
“The biggest change in our experience with Skyward was moving from the PAC version to the web version,” said Sample. “Like anyone, I didn’t like having to make this change at first, but now the web version is so much better.”
Although change over time is inevitable, Skyward continues to be dedicated to customers old and new. This is something that Merrill Area Public School District appreciates.
“While administrative turnover happens, the relationship between Merrill Area Public School District and Skyward remains strong,” said Sample.
"Skyward has played an integral role in our school management plan. Our strategic financial plans extend three years and beyond in most cases,” said Sample. “The software they provide has been key to our successful planning, helping meet our district goals."
Evolving Software, Unwavering Support
The key to this decades-long partnership is found at its cornerstone, where up-to-date solutions and dependable support meet. The combination is something Dasher didn’t experience with other software companies he worked with.
“In my years as a business manager, I have used two other school financial management software packages,” said Dasher. “Neither package was as user-friendly or as robust as Skyward. Neither company offered the same level and quality of training and support that Skyward has.”
The strong customer support that Skyward offers is one of the reasons Merrill Area Public School District has decided to stay with Skyward for so long. Training and support include a help center featuring product tutorials, customer support representatives who connect via chat or phone to online toolkits, webinars, and a video library that offers tips and tricks of the software for staff, parents and students.
“Skyward’s customer service has been excellent in working with us to make major changes to our operations, both on the finance and the student management side,” said Dasher. “Their support staff have always been responsive to our requests for assistance in solving problems. This is one of the reasons why Merrill has been committed to Skyward for such a long time.”
Another key element of success has been the opportunity to develop and forecast plans which have helped the district achieve goals.
"Skyward has played an integral role in our school management plan. Our strategic financial plans extend three years and beyond in most cases,” said Sample. “The software they provide has been key to our successful planning, helping meet our district goals.”
While Skyward continues to evolve its software to meet the needs of districts, the family-owned company continues to add staff to support their growing customer base. After all, that same man that came to Merrill Area Public School District’s door in 1980 still owns the company, and its headquarters remain in the city where it all began. This is something that districts appreciate.
“I think that some of the important qualities of education technology today include stability, controllable growth, ease of access and operation, support across the user spectrum, and maintenance of historical data,” commented Sample. “Skyward holds all of these qualities.”
Preparing for the Next Generation
Over the last 40 years, Merrill Area Public School District and Skyward have witnessed many changes in the K-12 industry. What started as a system with a very specific purpose has evolved into one that tackles many districts’ needs in managing both student and business operations.
As needs and requirements change, Merrill Area Public School District continues to upgrade and take advantage of the tools their Skyward student and business solution offers. For example, the district recently set up its payroll processes to integrate with employee management, reducing the likelihood of payroll errors.
“No school management software system is perfect, but Skyward continues to make improvements and is responsive to the changing accounting and state reporting requirements that are constantly coming our way,” said Dasher. “They have shown time and again that they remain on the forefront of responding to our changing needs."
Even more recently, Skyward has played an important role in helping the district through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Skyward has allowed us to do pretty much everything remotely. There is very little that we have needed to be on site for,” said Sample.
In the future, Merrill Area Public School District plans to continue to move as much of their external data from spreadsheets into Skyward as possible. This will allow them to retrieve the important data from anywhere at any time.
As 2020 marks the beginning of a new decade, Merrill Area Public School District is excited to see how their software partner continues to evolve.
“I can see Skyward expanding into even more districts and states,” said Dasher. “The growing applications between Skyward and other third-party integrations are immense and aid us, and other districts, in intertwining student achievement and behavior, spending, and historical data.”
As for advice to give to other districts considering a move to Skyward, Sample and Dasher suggest making sure employees are cross trained during the set-up process, and use a rotation so multiple people are exposed to the system and stay up to date on its functionality. They also suggest investing the time and money up front to get the system set up correctly to maximize the system’s benefits.
“The less you rely on external spreadsheets and other databases, the better the system will be for you,” commented Sample. “I also suggest calling in for help whenever you need it; it is free, incredibly helpful, and develops the relationship between your district and Skyward, which is important.”
Reflecting on the past 40 years, and looking forward to the future, both Skyward and Merrill Area Public School District have thoroughly enjoyed their partnership.
“I am proud of the history Merrill has with Skyward, dating back to the beginning of the company's startup,” said Sample. “I am equally proud of the relationship we have formed through the years. It is a partnership built on trust and respect.
Want to learn more about Merrill Area School District and Skyward? View this interview
with Skyward founder and owner, Jim King, as he recalls his first district partnership that catapulted the business to where it is today.