Improving the quality of K–12 education is the core purpose of every district leader. Yet, the school business leader is often left out of the student achievement conversation.
Glenbrook High School District 225, located north of Chicago, is the ideal example of how a district business office can influence mission and culture. Dr. R.J. Gravel, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, says Glenbrook’s central goal is to “improve the experiences of students, parents, and staff,” which sounds simple on the surface. But with 5,151 students, 850 full-time employees, and a $134 million-dollar budget, Gravel’s goal is no small feat.
Enter technology. As a leading high school district in the Midwest, Glenbrook has developed and maintained many partnerships with its technology partners, including Skyward, the district’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software (SMS 2.0) implemented in 2012. Over time, Glenbrook updated its internal processes, increased efficiency, and provided a more streamlined experience for stakeholders with the help of Skyward. Still, district leadership knew to achieve its goals, Glenbrook needed to continue advancing and set its sights on the future.
Cue Skyward’s Qmlativ School Business Suite
, the latest evolution of its ERP software. Once district administrators learned of Qmlativ in 2016, Gravel rallied his team around the idea of being one of the first districts in Illinois to transition from their current Skyward business software, SMS 2.0, to Qmlativ. With the transition, Glenbrook would discover new ways to provide a better education experience from the district business office and also help Skyward develop and refine the future of school administrative software along the way.
"HAVING BEEN ONE OF THE FIRST SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN ILLINOIS TO TRANSITION FROM SMS 2.0 TO QMLATIV, WE DOCUMENTED OUR CONVERSION FROM START TO FINISH."
Glenbrook’s Journey to a Better Experience
Glenbrook’s interest in Qmlativ started at Skyward’s annual international conference in 2017. While attending, Glenbrook’s team held multiple discussions with Skyward staff about moving to the new platform. By the end of the conference, Skyward granted Glenbrook access to Qmlativ’s sandbox, a testing environment where team members reviewed the similarities and differences between SMS 2.0 and Qmlativ.
“After seeing what Qmlativ offered, from the SQL database to the flexible interface, we recognized that it fit in line with our vision for the future,” explained Gravel. “It contained the most important qualities we look for in education technology: accessibility, attentiveness to district needs, in tune with national, state, and local changes, instant support, and a continuously evolving product.”
Excited about what they were seeing, Glenbrook leaders invited over 20 Chicagoland districts who were using Skyward’s SMS 2.0 School Business Suite to a roundtable event. At the event, Skyward staff introduced Qmlativ while Gravel encouraged attendees to follow the Twitter hashtag, #DiscoveringQ, to monitor Glenbrook’s implementation from beginning to end.
“We knew that a lot of school districts were considering the transition to Qmlativ and evaluating when they should make the leap,” explained Gravel. “Having been one of the first school districts in Illinois to transition from SMS 2.0 to Qmlativ, we documented our conversion from start to finish.
"OUR STAFF LOVES THE FLEXIBILITY OF QMLATIV. "
Over the course of almost a year (February—December 2017), the Glenbrook team explored Qmlativ and partnered with Skyward developers to lay out a successful Qmlativ roadmap. “Unlike a typical vendor-customer conversation, Skyward was equally interested in learning about our needs, and our business processes,” explained Gravel.
However, even with a roadmap in place, Glenbrook’s leadership knew that any hope of a smooth transition would involve planning and preparation. “When you are one of the ‘first’ to implement a new technology, you admittedly take a risk that something might not work the way you need it to work,” stated Gravel. “But at the same time, our eyes were wide open.”
To do their part, district leadership reviewed processing schedules, school activity calendars, and audit timelines, searching for the most ideal implementation timeline. In the end, Glenbrook chose a spring 2018 implementation. Leadership shared the news and timeline with staff, but with a twist: Instead of focusing on the need to adjust to new technology, Glenbrook’s business team presented the switch to Qmlativ as an opportunity for faster, more streamlined processes, substantial enhancements to reporting, and intuitive experiences.
Messages were tailored to each group of users based on their duties such as office support staff, administrators, and power users in the business or human resources office. Between hands-on sessions, pre-recorded videos, and a redesigned Professional Development Center, Glenbrook’s team equipped staff with every resource necessary for a smooth implementation.
"AS EDUCATORS, WE ARE COMMITTED TO BEING LIFELONG LEARNERS, SO WE WORK THROUGH EACH QUESTION, EACH MODULE, ONE AT A TIME."
So, how has Glenbrook adjusted to its new solution? “Our staff loves the flexibility of Qmlativ,” explained Gravel. “They enjoy the speedy experience of browsing data, and the ability to customize their digital workspace both aesthetically and functionally.”
As for the implementation, Glenbrook’s careful preparation paid off. “Our implementation experience was great,” stated Gravel. Still, any transition to a new technology comes with a learning curve.
“We were SMS experts, and now we are back as novice users,” explained Gravel. “However, as educators, we are committed to being lifelong learners, so we work through each question, each module, one at a time. Over time, we will be Qmlativ experts.”
Overall, Gravel believes the greatest benefit of Qmlativ so far has been enhanced levels of security. When Glenbrook used SMS 2.0, staff gave other team members unnecessary amounts of access to help them get work done. Qmlativ presented an ideal opportunity for the administration to have an honest conversation with staff and make sure each employee had the exact access they needed.
“Qmlativ gave us the ability to re-build our system security profiles and individual user access from the ground up,” said Gravel.
Mapping Out the Future
As Qmlativ continues to expand, Glenbrook looks forward to adding more features to its technology toolkit such as open enrollment and time tracking. Better yet, the district’s business team is heavily involved in providing feedback regarding the user interface of each solution, which Skyward will roll out to school districts later.
“It was awesome sitting at a table this past spring, listening to the stories of our staff, and hearing them explain the goals they have and how Qmlativ gives us the ability to pursue those goals,” stated Gravel. “Skyward has been a true partner—right by our side, eager to learn about our experience, and standing behind their commitment to excellence in support and school software design.”
Technology change can seem daunting, but Gravel insists the benefits far outweigh the costs.
“Your school administrative software will evolve to a level that has not been seen in years,” suggested Gravel. “Qmlativ represents years of research and user feedback for what we as educators need in a software solution. While the transition might be scary to think about, the outcome is amazing!”
To learn more about Glenbrook High School District 225 and their continued exploration of Qmlativ, follow Dr. R.J. Gravel on Twitter @rjgravel or the hashtag #DiscoveringQ.
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