With Gateway School District’s last student administrative software solution, tech director Michael Brown had to jump through hoops, go through workarounds, and stay handcuffed to changing policies.
As a result, Brown ditched the district’s old software solution, iPass, and traded it in for a new solution – Skyward.
Skyward, a software-based student management suite, enables school districts to better organize internal structures, including students’ grades, student enrollment, IT strategies and administrative tasks.
Brown says that one of the best features Skyward offers Gateway School District is its ability to work for the user.
“They give you a lot of abilities to say “ok, we want to have these codes or we want to follow these standards,” [or] different ways of configuring the product to work with the district,” Brown says. “Not the other way around.”
Sandy Kickert, Project Manager of Skyward, says Brown and the rest of the district are able to take advantage of the software’s “one-stop-shop” capabilities.
“One of the good things with Skyward is…they can login in once, and get to everything they need, on both the student and finance side,” Kickert says.
Plus, Kickert says, staff members like Brown can also find and utilize the other resources on the software, such as professional development options.
“There are a lot of resources,” she says. “We have a Professional Development Center, which Gateway purchased; it’s a self-paced online course they can take in addition to the training they bought, where an actual Skyward trainer comes on site. That’s a good way for people to get help on their own. We also have online documentation, service calls, free webinars, etc.”
Skyward staff trained the faculty and staff in Gateway School District, and lent a helping hand if problems popped up after the installation.
“I would say we probably didn’t do enough of it [training],” Brown says. “We’re still going through professional development to learn how to use it fully.”
Since installing Skyward, Brown says the software is mostly used by teachers, school nurses, secretaries, and anyone in a role that provides students support services.
Brown also says that Skyward’s grade book feature is utilized the most, as is the extra communication opportunities that teachers can send to parents.
“They [the district] wanted to implement quickly. Some districts have a period of time to work through everything, but they were so anxious to get started with Skyward, that we had to do some things unconventionally. Any time you rush into things there can be challenges.”
-Sandy Kickert, Project Manager of Skyward
“The thing we’re using with Skyward that none of the other systems had is extra communication features,” he says. “We can send out email blasts to parents or students. We can say that an assignment was posted, so the teacher doesn’t have to go out and send it through another system. That’s been fantastic.”
Skyward has also been fantastic to work with, Brown says, and makes any internal or data changes transparent to him and its other customers.
“Skyward is open about providing details of their database for custom reporting,” Brown says. “With our old system, they’d say, “you’re not allowed to touch our database, that’s our data structure.” With Skyward, they publically make that info available, and it’s in the releases of what’s changing. So, they’re saying it’s your data, you can report it any way you want. For me, as a data person, I love that.”
Tips to Planning Your Next Student Administrative Software Solution
Build Your Team
Brown says that school districts looking to implement a new student administrative software solution should build a team that will consistently work with its chosen vendor.
That way, everyone is on the same page, and the install can run smoothly.
“I would say involve as many people up front as possible,” Brown says. “Have meetings to communicate to say “hey, this sounds like a feature that we could use and that other people could benefit from”…By communicating more…you can establish how you want to proceed without having to go back and revisit it every few months.”
Take the Time
Before jumping into a new solution, Kickert recommends giving that team plenty of time to learn the new product.
“I would suggest that they give themselves plenty of time,” she says. “People have their own lives, own jobs, plus they have to learn the software, implement the new software, do the setup, etc. It’s great not to budget too tightly on the training.”
Keep Expectations Simple
Once a team and time are accounted for, Kickert suggests that the district formulate realistic expectations for the installation.
She says to expect hiccups, bugs, and for the full setup to be slow.
“It’s a change,” Kickert says. “You’re switching from one system to another and trying to do everything correctly. Just get your staff on board with that. Usually people will come back and say that the software and everything ran well, but the process of getting through it is never without loss.”