At the end of each quarter, children used to watch the mail, hoping to intercept their report cards and prevent their parents from finding them. Parents nervously opened envelopes, hoping their children behaved in class, did their homework, and performed well on tests.
Today, these scenes can only be found in movies and memories.
“Today’s parents want to be more involved,” said Dr. Daniel Fishbein, the superintendent of Ridgewood Public Schools. “They desire on-demand visibility into their student's academic development and the ability to cultivate stronger relationships with teachers.”
"WE'RE A HIGH-PERFORMING DISTRICT, BUT WE JUST DIDN'T HAVE THIS KIND OF SYSTEM IN PLACE."
Ridgewood, New Jersey, which is located less than ten miles south of the New York border, has ten schools and is the largest district in Bergen County. Although the district has a reputation for excellent teachers and high performing students, its student management system was far from ideal.
“Many of today’s schools are taking advantage of web-based systems that deliver fantastic benefits to teachers, students, and parents,” explained Fishbein. “We’re a high-performing district, but we just didn’t have this kind of system in place. Our parents would hear from parents in neighboring districts about how they are able to communicate directly with the schools through a web-based portal and quickly and easily access information about their children online. Parents in our district grew curious and a bit concerned, wondering why we didn’t offer them the same services. To be honest, I also came from a school with a state-of-the art student management application, and I was surprised by how archaic our systems seemed in comparison.”
Fishbein realized they needed to make a change. “We couldn’t correlate simple things like SAT scores and grade point averages, or a student’s progression in a specific program from elementary school to middle school.”
At that same time, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly referred to as the Stimulus Package, was passed in an effort to restart the economy. Shortly thereafter, Ridgewood discovered that one of its main systems would no longer be supported. Fishbein seized the opportunity. “One of the provisions in the bill was designed to help schools improve their assessment and analysis of student performance. And that was exactly what we needed.”
"I WAS CONFIDENT THAT IN THE END SKYWARD WOULD COME OUT ON TOP, SO FOR THE MOST PART, I TOOK A STEP BACK AND LET THE PROCESS RUN ITS NATURAL COURSE."
Prior to joining Ridgewood, Fishbein had been the superintendent of another district in New Jersey that used Skyward. He was very familiar with the system and the benefits it offered. “When we made the decision to implement a new system at Ridgewood, I had only been with the district for two years. I knew Skyward was a great choice for our needs, but that was something I wanted the cross-functional selection committee to conclude for themselves. I was confident that in the end Skyward would come out on top, so for the most part, I took a step back and let the process run its natural course.”
As Fishbein expected, the committee chose Skyward’s Student Management Suite. “Skyward met all of our criteria,” he said. “Skyward has extensive industry expertise and has demonstrated its ability to successfully deliver similar implementations for other districts.”
Skyward also met the government’s criteria:
- It is a single, integrated project.
- The primary focus of the system is to enable schools to improve their assessment and analysis of student performance.
Because the system met these criteria, Ridgewood was able to fund 100% of the project using stimulus money.
During the implementation process, Skyward provided ongoing training for Ridgewood teachers, administrators, secretaries, nurses, and others who would use the system. “Skyward has taken the lead throughout this process,” said Fishbein. “They have extensive experience doing similar implementations, and they’re very confident in what they say they’re going to do. And, they’ve delivered on their promises… [Our staff has] been very impressed with what they have seen so far with Skyward.”
Ridgewood began seeing significant benefits from the Skyward system prior to its full deployment. For instance, the district used the system to manage spring course selection. “In the past, we had one system students and parents would use to request their courses, and then we would have to port that information over to another system,” said Fishbein. “But with Skyward, we have all the functionality we need in a single, integrated system. Students and parents chose their courses, and that information was immediately reflected in the system. We have saved one step in that process which has translated into a productivity gain.”
The easy-to-operate system lends itself to a more productive administration in other areas as well. “With our old system, you practically needed an advanced degree to produce reports. Often, users would call our IT department asking for help,” said Fishbein. “But with Skyward, administrators—including principals and assistant superintendents— will be able to quickly and easily track specific information and manipulate the data on their own. Reports that once took hours to produce will now take seconds with just the click of a button.”
Fishbein noted the importance of efficiency and productivity in school districts. “New Jersey school districts just lost all state aid for the upcoming school year, so our need to drive efficiency and productivity with as few resources as possible will be more critical than ever. Skyward will enable us to actually improve our ability to serve our students despite this dramatic loss of financial support.”
Simplified access and updating of student information
Skyward’s Student Management Suite offers Ridgewood’s staff greater insight into the specific needs and requirements of individual students. For example, if a student has a certain food allergy or medical issue, that information will be automatically tied to the student’s profile and will be accessible to all of his or her teachers.
Updating that information has also become simpler. “Parents will be able to update their own information using the system, such as a new mobile number, and that data will be automatically populated across all of the students tied to that parent,” said Fishbein. “We are also planning to roll out what we call the reverse 911 system where we can contact all parents on their cell phones in the case of a snow day, early school closure due to unforeseen circumstances, etc… Quick access to up-to-date information is critical.”
"I KNOW FROM PAST EXPERIENCE THE VALUE THEY OFFER, BOTH IN REGARDS TO TECHNOLOGY AND AS A LONG-TERM PARTNER."
Improved communication via the Gradebook and Family Access
Ridgewood’s teachers save time and eliminate hassles with Skyward’s Gradebook. “When it came to managing grades with our old system, teachers would record the information in one system and that information would then be ported into a second system,” explained Fishbein. “With Skyward, that process will now be automated. And teachers will be able to carry over relevant aspects of the Gradebook from year to year.”
The Family Access portal allows parents to take a more active role in their child’s academic experiences. Parents and teachers can communicate directly through the user-friendly system. For example, if a teacher is posting a grade and wants to send a comment to the child’s parent, he or she can simply click on the student’s name and an e-mail for the parent will pop up. “If a teacher sees a drop-off in performance, they can immediately share their concern with the parent,” said Fishbein. “Or if they are entering an A+, they can also send a message of praise and encouragement. If these communications relied on the teachers opening up their e-mail, copying and pasting the parent’s email address, etc., they would probably never take place.”
Increased student responsibility
The Skyward system enables students to take more responsibility for their academic success. “In addition to managing things like course selection, our older students will have access to their academics so they can see where they stand and what they can do to improve their own performance,” said Fishbein.
Continuous system development
Fishbein is pleased with the ongoing updates and upgrades Skyward provides. “When Skyward makes an enhancement, it comes with the product; there is no nickel-and-diming. At no additional cost, we will benefit from future developments and added features. I know from past experience the value they offer, both in regards to technology and as a long-term partner. I am truly looking forward to the improvements and benefits we will realize.”
Follow-up resource: Student Management Suite
To learn more about what a better SIS experience could look like in your district, check out the Student Management Suite.