Exceptional service and a commitment to transparency lead to greater achievement for two Illinois districts.
Customer service is a concept not traditionally associated with public schools—but according to many district leaders, it’s every bit as critical to success in education as it is in business.
In education, the “customers” are the students who attend a school and their families, and delivering a better experience for these stakeholders can lead to dramatically improved outcomes.
Research has shown that engaging parents and making them full partners in their children’s education can help boost student achievement. What’s more, when students take ownership of their own learning, they are more likely to excel.
Both of these things can happen when schools enhance their customer service by improving the flow of communication between teachers, parents, and students; streamlining student registration and other important processes; and soliciting feedback to learn how they can better meet families’ needs.
This is a lesson that two Illinois school districts have learned firsthand, as they have seen tangible results by being more responsive to stakeholders—and Skyward’s solution has been the engine driving this improvement.
Consolidated High School District 230
Johnsburg School District 12
Skyward's Student Management Suite
Online learning and communication tools have improved student outcomes by maximizing engagement at home and in the classroom.
"What I didn’t expect was for the students to embrace it so much. It can be three o’clock in the morning, and there are kids who are checking their grades. It’s crazy."
At Consolidated High School District 230, Skyward is the key operational platform for the district. Skyward’s human resources, financial, and student management solution are at the center of the district’s operations. But the solution’s most important contribution might be what parents and students get out of it from a communication standpoint, according to Chief Technology Officer John Connolly.
Enabling Two-Way Communication
District 230 has about 10,000 parents regularly logging into Skyward’s Family Access, which provides a window into what is going on in the schools. There is an intuitive message center where parents can post messages to their children’s teachers, and teachers can post messages to the entire class or to individual students or parents.
“Parents can send one message to all of their child’s teachers with the click of a button,” said Information Systems Manager Scott Anthony. “It has become our primary communications tool in the district.”
Skyward’s Family Access is enabling two-way communications between parents and teachers in a way that District 230 didn’t have before. “A few years ago you could send an email message if you knew the teacher’s email address and you would hope they were checking their email,” said Anthony. “Now, the message center is the first thing parents see when they log in, so if they have a new message from a teacher, it’s going to be front and center. This has made it so much easier for parents to get in contact with a teacher.”
But it’s not just teachers who are using the system to communicate: Guidance counselors, special-education case managers, coaches, and advisors also can leave messages for parents and students. As an example, Anthony said, “If there’s a change in the practice schedule, there is not a phone chain anymore. Now, coaches can generate one message immediately to all the kids on that roster, post it to the message center, and then the players know what’s going on.”
District 230 has seen attendance improve dramatically since adopting Skyward’s solution, and student tardiness has declined. “There is so much more real-time interaction, and the dean’s office can respond quicker if there is a student who hasn’t reported to class,” Anthony said. Parents also can sign up to receive an automated email message when a disciplinary infraction has been attached to a student’s record. “If they see that email come in, often they’re on the phone with the dean before their child even gets to see the dean,” he added.
Before adopting Skyward, District 230 used its own homegrown gradebook system, and it had a separate portal for attendance and discipline information. “When Skyward merged all that together, I knew parents would jump on board,” Anthony said. “What I didn’t expect was for the students to embrace it so much. It can be three o’clock in the morning, and there are kids who are checking their grades. It’s crazy.”
One of the messages that District 230 tries to communicate is how important it is for students to take ownership of their own learning, Connolly said. Having easy access to their academic information empowers students to do this.
“We have well over one million messages that are generated to parents and students through Skyward. Over 90 percent of our kids have logged in to get their final grades within two weeks of a semester exam. So it’s highly, highly used by both parents and students,” he said.
“Research shows that when parents are involved, kids are more likely to be successful in school. Skyward is one of the key factors in keeping parents involved, which in turn leads to better success for our students.”
"It gives them the ability to participate in their child’s education and engage in meaningful discussions with their children about what is going on in class..."
Johnsburg School District 12 also uses Skyward to run its human resources, financial, and student operations—and Director of Instructional Technology R.J. Gravel is a firm believer that the solution has led to exceptional customer service for Johnsburg stakeholders.
A One-Stop Shop for Parents
“We use Family Access and Skylert, which is a broadcast solution, for our district communications,” Gravel said. “We love Skylert, because we can use it to send text messages, phone calls, and survey calls to our parents. Skylert also gives parents the ability to add different phone numbers for babysitters or child care facilities—so we can always get information to the right people who need it.”
Johnsburg is using Skylert to get feedback from parents in order to continually improve its processes.
“Instead of sending a form home with parents after parent-teacher conferences, for instance, we create a very brief, five- question survey by phone,” Gravel explained. It often can be hard to get timely feedback from parents, he said, but this process enables the district to receive nearly immediate responses in a very convenient manner. With help from this feedback, “we can provide recommendations to teachers for how to make conferences more effective for parents.”
Johnsburg also uses Skyward’s solution to enable parents to register their children for school online. “Parents have the ability to register their kids, deposit money in their lunch account, and fill out customized forms, such as emergency transport information,” Gravel said.
He described Skyward’s platform as “a product driven by parents, for parents.”
Johnsburg recently adopted Skyward’s Course Learning Center, which expands the classroom to a 24-7 environment. “Not only students, but also parents can see the information being shared, participate in online dialogue, and have all the materials they need to be successful—right from their cell phone, tablet, or laptop,” Gravel said.
“Giving parents a passenger-seat view of what is going on in the classroom is absolutely huge,” he said. “It gives them the ability to participate in their child’s education and engage in meaningful discussions with their children about what is going on in class—helping them, encouraging them, and challenging them to be successful.”
"I've compared Skyward to competitors, and I think the solution itself is better. But on top of that, I would say the support has been beyond phenomenal."
Providing Exceptional Value
Customer service isn’t just something that Skyward enables for its users: It’s a concept the company applies within its own approach as well.
“Our biggest challenge is dealing with the reality of having to do more with less,” Gravel said. “When I first got to Johnsburg in April 2010, our technology budget was $275,000. About two years later, it dropped to $100,000; now, we’re at $55,000. That’s a great drop. But, because of our partnerships with providers such as Skyward, we’ve actually been able to expand our services by about 10 to 15 percent each year.”
For instance, Skyward’s core product has allowed the district to eliminate expenses in other areas, Gravel said.
“We used to spend $2,000 a year on a separate parent-teacher conference scheduler,” he noted. “Parents had to log into a different system with a different set of credentials.” Now, the district is able to offer that service using Skyward at no additional cost.
A key way the district has been able to do more with less is that Skyward delivers exceptional value to its customers.
“Skyward has developed its core product with a mission of providing more for schools without charging more,” Gravel said. “They add value by constantly adding more features to the product.”
By taking advantage of all these new tools and features, Johnsburg and District 230 are saving money and streamlining their processes, while also improving customer satisfaction for students, staff, and the community.
“I’ve compared Skyward to competitors, and I think the solution itself is better,” Anthony concluded. “But on top of that, I would say the support has been beyond phenomenal. In the six or seven years we’ve been using them, I’ve never had a bad experience.”
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