Oak Ridge Schools, a public district located about 30 minutes west of Knoxville, prides itself on being home to schools that are “among the finest… in Tennessee and the nation.”
In 2007, they were pioneers when they became the first district in Tennessee to purchase the Skyward Student Management Suite. What’s even more noteworthy is that, in doing so, they bypassed the opportunity to use a free, state-provided student information system (SIS).
"We were blown away by what we saw. Our [Skyward] salesperson's knowledge far exceeded any other salesperson."
Oak Ridge’s previous vendor provided basic student demographics and attendance, but as a district striving for excellence in educating its nearly 5,000 students, Oak Ridge needed to move beyond basic student data and start gauging trends and reviewing more sophisticated analytics.
As Oak Ridge’s district administrators researched SIS providers, they became familiar with Skyward. They were pleased with what its systems had to offer, from its Gradebook and Family Access modules, which allow parents and teachers to communicate and view students’ progress, to the Food Service module, where parents can stay informed as to what their students are eating. These functions were merely the tip of the iceberg, and positioned Skyward as an obvious SIS frontrunner.
Oak Ridge continued to evaluate the Skyward solution against its competitors, both student management and finance. They found it to be, hands down, significantly better than the others in terms of benefits and functionality. A Skyward representative came to the district and presented the Student Management Suite and the School Business Suite to teachers and administrators. “We were blown away by what we saw. Our [Skyward] salesperson’s knowledge far exceeded any other salesperson,” said Jeff Edmonds, the district’s supervisor of data services.
Oak Ridge Schools ultimately decided to purchase both Skyward products.
"Skyward did a great job of making sure we knew what we were doing as well as all that we could do in the system."
To begin moving forward with the new system, Skyward representatives and administrators from Oak Ridge spent three days at the Nashville Department of Education obtaining certification, since Skyward was new to Tennessee. “We have stringent state guidelines on data, so we had to trust that Skyward would work with our state department to get certified,” said Edmonds.
Skyward employees administered training sessions at Oak Ridge to ensure teachers and staff felt confident using the system and maximizing its capabilities. Edmonds said Skyward provided 10 times more professional training than other vendors. “Our partnership with Skyward has been wonderful from the start,” he said. “In the end, any product will only be as useful and helpful as the people who are using it. Skyward did a great job of making sure we knew what we were doing as well as all that we could do in the system.”
What are some of the positive changes experienced by Oak Ridge Schools since they began their partnership with Skyward?
"Skyward looks at the challenges districts face and finds ways to ease the burdens or eliminate them altogether."
Better data analysis leads to improved ability to educate students
Educators can break down state and national test scores by variables such as gender or English Language Learners to see various trends and find learning gaps. The district can identify struggling students and teachers can focus on those individuals, intervening through the Response to Intervention module. The district can track interventions to see which ones are working and if they are cost effective.
“The level of technology and reporting we get is phenomenal,” said Edmonds. “Our end goal—and we’re sure we’ll get there with Skyward—is to be able to analyze how a group of students will perform with a particular teacher so each student can get the absolute best education.”
Improved communication between teachers, students, and parents
Parents of Oak Ridge students are pleased that Skyward has improved their communication with teachers. Teachers post homework assignments and test results, enter grades, send out progress reports, and schedule parent-teacher conferences through Skyward. Parents enjoy being able to see their children’s homework assignments and class results as well as what they ate for lunch.
State reporting made easier
Edmonds said the state often changes report requirements with little notice, little detail, or both. Each time this occurs, Skyward accommodates to the changes. “Because of Skyward, we’ve never missed a deadline,” he said. “The product lets us do a lot of data verification to ensure what is actually going on in the district is in our student management system as well as the state’s database. Everything lines up. I’m confident we’ll never be hung out to dry with Skyward.”
An ideal partnership
“Skyward looks at the challenges districts face and finds ways to ease the burdens or eliminate them altogether,” said Edmonds. “Skyward not only listens to us, but they try to achieve any outcomes we seek. It’s the only software company I know that operates at this level with its customers.”
Many districts in Tennessee took notice of how well Skyward worked for Oak Ridge. They were impressed with the comprehensive data points Oak Ridge reported to the state and the glowing testimonials the staff and parents gave in regards to the clear lines of communication that Skyward opened.
In 2014, the state of Tennessee selected Skyward as a preferred student information system partner for its districts.