After months of research and evaluation, it is only natural for a school district to feel a sense of relief when a decision is finally made as to which student information system to use.
Unfortunately, there's very little time to celebrate as the district prepares to face the daunting task of implementing the new solution. Anxiety, confusion, and budget overruns have long been the norm, so many experienced leaders go in to the project expecting trouble. But a better experience is possible.
Deer Park ISD, located approximately 20 miles outside of Houston, is a district committed to innovation. They have always been able to provide high-quality services by staying on the cutting edge of education technology.
"[SKYWARD] HAD A GREAT REPUTATION...AND THEY WERE COMMITTED TO MEETING OUR TIGHT DEADLINE."
The district faced a difficult decision when it found out that its student information system would no longer be supported. Ultimately, the leadership team would have to decide between an unsupported system that was comfortable or a new, unknown alternative.
The district's director of information services, Sue Pike, and the team she worked with, decided to look toward the future with a new solution that would continue to grow with them. They initiated an extensive request for proposal (RFP) process and chose a SIS that they thought would be a good fit. The decision proved to be disastrous.
According to Pike, "We started talks in October 2009, we didn't see any real data conversion until February of 2010, we went live in August, 2011, and by September, 2011 I threw up the white flag and said, 'This is not going to work.''
Throughout the lengthy implementation process, the vendor Deer Park had chosen simply could not solve the persistent data migration issues that had cropped up. "We implemented 25 modules, and of those, 23 implemented with problems," Pike said. "As a result, information was inaccurate, reports were inaccurate. No one had any faith in the system or in the data. Teachers had difficulty using the program because it would work one day and then not work the next; it was impossible to train for that. After two months, we realized how serious the problem had become. Some people had stopped using the program altogether and resorted to spreadsheets. It was like everyone had taken five huge steps backwards."
Pike repeatedly tried to fix the issues. It became apparent, however, that there would be no easy resolution. That's when she decided to go in another direction. Deer Park ISD would stop using the system it had invested so much time, effort, and money into, and implement a brand new SIS—in the middle of the school year.
"We didn't realize how much we had come to depend on the productivity and efficiency benefits of a quality student software system until we didn't have one anymore," she noted.
"WHEN YOU GET A CHANCE TO COMPARE...YOU CLEARLY SEE THE LEVEL OF DIFFERENCE. SKYWARD IS TRULY A STEP ABOVE THE COMPETITION."
By this point, Pike and her team had done a lot of research into other systems. They decided to give Skyward a try. “There were so many other school districts in the area using Skyward. They had a great reputation; they offered a web-based solution; and they were committed to meeting our tight deadline.”
The district purchased Skyward on December 10, 2011, under pressure to pull off a successful implementation. “We already had the negative experience with the last conversion to contend with, and then we faced the challenge of introducing a brand new system in the middle of the school year,” Pike said.
Nevertheless, Deer Park ISD plowed ahead. They sent their data to Skyward on December 11. Pike was impressed that by Christmas, Skyward already had some of the data ready to go. “The implementation was fast and furious. We had a call with our project manager and by the end of that hour we knew what we needed to do and what Skyward needed to do. She would send us updates with an updated project list and updated implementation calendar. We knew when trainings were coming up and what our tasks were. There were no loose ends; it was just snapping your fingers and boom, boom, boom, things were done. No dates were missed; everything was right on schedule. Our assigned Skyward project manager and the programmers worked like crazy. They were wonderful.”
Pike credits the successful implementation, in part, to Skyward’s partnership approach. “It wasn’t just, ‘All right, let’s get you using Skyward and then we’ll figure everything out later.’ Instead it was, “No, wait a minute. How does your district work? How do you do GPA? How do you calculate grades? What codes do you use? What is going to work best for your users?’”
Deer Park ISD ended the semester on January 16, 2012. January 17 was an in-service day and on the 18th, when everyone returned for the start of the new semester, Skyward was up and running - in under two months.
“In just six weeks Skyward pulled off an amazing implementation and, unbelievably, we also stayed within budget,” says Pike. “Of course it took our users a day or two to acclimate – especially since this was the third system they had used in one year. But soon they just went hog wild; they loved the system! It gave them the accurate information they needed. They could run their own reports and do creative data mining. They truly trust the system, and that is invaluable.”
Pike gives Skyward an A+ for the implementation of the Student Management System. “If you don’t have the leadership from your vendor, you can really flounder. But with Skyward, I was just so impressed with the whole implementation process. They really made it painless. In a very short amount of time they were able to implement a system that addressed the needs of the district. They were incredibly professional, organized and met all of the deadlines.
Skyward does cost a little bit more, but, when you get a chance to compare (and that’s not always a good thing such as in our case), you clearly see the level of difference. Skyward is truly a step above the competition.”
Follow-up resource: Student Management Suite
To learn more about Skyward's tried-and-true SMOOTH implementation process, click here.