At Dickson County School District, located just west of Nashville, administrators and staff struggled to find an SIS that could meet their needs and provide a smooth implementation process. After an unsuccessful attempt to make a change, the need for an SIS conversion was still imminent, and the district could not risk another failed transition.
Needless to say, administrators were not looking forward to making a change they thought would be another challenging, onerous process.
Emily Murphy, middle school counselor, said the district experienced a “fear of change and expanding horizons” when it came to new technology.
“Just making the transition from one student information system to another is enough of a challenge,” said Randy Brison, the district’s student data manager. “Many school level users were reluctant, to say the least.”
The district’s next move was to make the switch to a newer, more capable student management solution with an intuitive design. Administrators needed an advanced technology partnership that would provide its users personalized training modules and specialized courses to facilitate the learning process for all district users.
"I'VE SEEN IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN – THE DEGREE OF SUCCESS EMPLOYEES HAVE HAD IN TRANSITIONING TO SKYWARD IS RELATED TO THEIR LEVEL OF PARTICIPATION IN AND COMPLETION OF COURSES IN THE PDC."
Cue Skyward and its new Professional Development Center (PDC), which offered the district multiple learning avenues to master the new comprehensive Student Management Suite administrators chose to implement.
“The PDC made my comfort level with the interface go up quickly,” Brison said. “It was great to have a simulation in which I could be guided through a specific task, click on anything in front of me, and be given feedback on what I was doing – I’ve heard that from other people both at the district level and at the school level.”
As district staff began to use the Professional Development Center, the need for Brison’s assistance with troubleshooting and training was lessened.
“I’ve seen it over and over again – the degree of success employees have had in transitioning to Skyward is related to their level of participation in and completion of courses in the PDC,” he said. “The more they’ve done with PDC, the easier it is for them.”
Karen Woolam, registrar, was a member of the district’s implementation team and agreed that the PDC eased challenges during the process.
“It was invaluable to get a sense of how to work Skyward,” she said.
For Woolam, it was important for employees to use the PDC to answer a lot of their questions without coming to office staff for help. She added that attendance, grading and scheduling were some of the most helpful training courses district staff completed.
Attendance secretary Amy Fitzgerald found that it was helpful to have everyone looking at the same training material and learning the same processes through
“The PDC was a very useful tool for me,” she said. “It was easy to understand, and the fact that I could login from home and work at my own pace was very helpful. I would recommend it to everyone that will be using Skyward.”
“The PDC has helped me greatly as a registrar,” said Melissa Daniel, also an administrative staff member.
“I would definitely recommend the PDC to a new user. Anyone that used the PDC said it was greatly helpful. Some employees have asked to have courses reassigned to brush up. The PDC courses were very helpful for staff in easing anxiety when moving to the new system.”
The district also saved time and money by decreasing the number of group training sessions needed.
“Rather than having to do a lot of big group trainings over all topics related to Skyward, I was able to concentrate on areas of difficulty with fewer trainees,” Brison said.
He added that the district saved an estimated $1,500 on its own training costs by using the PDC. “I think this is a conservative estimate because training is ongoing as we bring on new staff constantly.”
The district also saved $30,053 on Skyward training costs. “Without PDC, we would have had to purchase more onsite and/or distance sessions for my district to help users,” Brison said.
"I COULD ALMOST HEAR ANGELS SINGING. THE EXPERIENCE IN SIMULATIONS – THE ABILITY TO ACTUALLY PUT HANDS ON, CLICK AND TYPE – IS INVALUABLE. I NEED THAT. MY USERS NEED THAT."
Administrators agree that the PDC alleviated the staff’s anxiety throughout the transition and training process.
As a counselor, Murphy relied on the PDC during scheduling and worked to complete all courses relevant to her position. She also encouraged teaching staff – formerly fearful of the change – to complete courses related to their own positions, which proved successful.
“PDC eased the teachers’ minds by allowing them an introduction and time for experimentation,” she said. “My teachers did not express nearly as many fears after completing the PDC courses. I was impressed by my teachers’ knowledge.”
The district’s principals, database manager and additional office personnel also completed relevant PDC courses. Murphy said she would recommend that districts require certain PDC courses for staff members, based upon their roles.
“Conversion and implementation are traumatic in the best of circumstances, but having the PDC as another tool for training was like being able to swim in a pool with ‘floaties’ for a while before being thrown into the ocean,” Brison said.
Brison likes the individualized learning pace the PDC offers users. Staff members with more confidence can complete courses at a faster pace, while those who need more time to grasp the material can pause, replay and practice at their own pace. He believes the PDC simulations also play a key role in helping users get accustomed to the new solution’s tools and interface.
“The biggest thing is making them more comfortable with the Skyward environment before they actually had to use a live database,” Brison said. “The best part of the PDC and the most pleasant surprise were the simulations. I was afraid we’d be stuck with video lectures or ‘watch- and-learn’ videos, or – worst case – ‘read and try to remember.’”
Brison described going through the first PDC simulation as “dawn-breaking.”
“Seriously, I could almost hear angels singing,” he said. “The experience in simulations – the ability to actually put hands on, click and type – is invaluable. I need that. My users need that.”
To date, Dickson County School District has more than 300 PDC users who have achieved nearly 250
“Users tell me the PDC helped them, and I’m thankful,” Brison said. “I absolutely would recommend the PDC.”
Follow-up resource: Professional Development Center
Learning to use your student information system shouldn’t be a frustrating process. That's why we have the PDC.