Any district that has changed SIS providers knows that moving on from what’s familiar can be time consuming and stressful. From establishing employee buy-in and meeting aggressive timelines, to ensuring smooth data conversions and maximizing training opportunities, replacing an SIS is never a decision that should be taken lightly.
Some districts avoid making a transition at all costs because they don’t want the headaches associated with it. Others are ready to jump in with both feet because they know the end-result will benefit their district. The latter was the case for Georgetown Independent School District, with a student population of 11,000 students, located north of Austin, Texas. The district was ready for a new SIS partner and eager to document the transition process during their first year.
The Need to Switch: March-June 2015
Georgetown’s switch was multifaceted. To start, the district conducted a need assessment of all end-users who previously utilized Georgetown’s student information system. The assessment documented the need for better functionality and more customization, causing Georgetown to create a list of high-priority requirements that hadn’t been met in the past to lead its search for a new SIS. At the top of the list was the ability to customize student information and screens, attach documents, align with the state’s graduation requirements, and consolidate tasks in the teacher and family portals.
Skyward’s Student Management Suite met Georgetown’s list of top priorities, convincing them to take the necessary leap of faith to an SIS that would grow with the district for years to come. “A lot of our priorities sounded really basic but when we were doing our needs assessment those were the needs we had and those were the needs Skyward met,” said Mary Mitchem, the district’s information systems manager.
Knowing, other districts are continually looking at changing their systems, Georgetown reflected on its first year of using a new SIS from the project kick-off to its data migration and training. “There are so many reasons why we made the switch and it’s good to remember how far we’ve come in just one year,” explained Mitchem. Because of Georgetown’s decision to journal its experiences, districts who have similar concerns about transitioning to Skyward’s SIS can feel reassured.
"ANY TIME WE'VE RUN INTO AN ISSUE, OUR PROJECT MANAGER HAS HELPED TO FIX IT."
Project Kick-Off: August-September 2015
The first contact Georgetown had with Skyward in August of 2015 was a unique one. “Our first Skyward project manager was good, but due to unforeseen circumstances she was no longer able to lead our project,” explained Mitchem. “We actually ended up with an even better project manager who was wonderful and understood all the factors that needed to be considered.”
According to Mitchem, the trait that stood out most in her project manager was an ability to communicate the scope and timeline of the implementation process while providing strong problem- solving skills to meet the district’s needs. From building district rapport to planning and monitoring the implementation process, Georgetown’s project manager followed through on all phases of the project.
“I only survived this conversion because of our project manager,” explained Mitchem. “She assessed what shortfalls were causing issues and helped us resolve problems.”
Consulting: September-December 2015
The first year on a new SIS will always be accompanied by a few bumps in the road, but with the right partner they can be overcome. For Georgetown, their first consulting encounter was the bump that needed to be overcome. Luckily, Georgetown relied on their Skyward project manager who found the district a new lead consultant to identify obstacles and straighten out the situation. “We loved the lead consultant our project manager found us. He helped make sure any configuration issues we had were addressed,” explained Mitchem. “Anytime we’ve run into an issue, our project manager has helped to fix it.”
"I KNEW SKYWARD WAS A WELL-OILED MACHINE WHEN IT CAME TO CONVERSIONS."
Data Migration: January-August 2016
When it came time to migrate data, Mitchem and her district were confident the process would be smooth. “This is my second Skyward implementation, with my first being ten years ago, and I knew Skyward was a well-oiled machine when it came to conversions,” stated Mitchem.
Specifically, Mitchem was impressed with Skyward’s ability to move customers off previous systems thanks to its experience with almost 2,000 districts. Automated utilities were used to pull the data and no screen shots were necessary from the district’s former system. “They really knew what they were doing, how to extract the data, and how it would look in Skyward,” explained Mitchem.
It wouldn’t have been a data migration without a few hiccups, though. Georgetown staff found themselves struggling with course history and gifted and talented conversion issues. With a dedicated Skyward conversion manager, Georgetown solved many of the issues they encountered. “Our conversion manager bent over backwards so we could do the things we needed to do,” stated Mitchem.
Training: January-August 2016
Georgetown reduced learning curves by having Skyward trainers teach district employees about the software as more data was migrated. While Mitchem would have preferred district leaders train end users, Georgetown was too small and too new to the software not to use the Skyward trainer method.
The main concern Mitchem had with relying on vendor trainers was their tendency to show a district every capability in the software within the first year. “There are always multiple ways to do something in Skyward, but during the first year of a conversion, it’s best to stick to one way that everyone will use it,” explained Mitchem.
Fortunately, Georgetown found its end users connecting particularly well with a Skyward trainer who embodied such a strategy. “Our Skyward trainer said there are 15 ways to do this and I’m going to show you the one I think is the easiest, which really resonated with our staff,” said Mitchem. “We recently had her back on site because she connected so well with our end users.”
For the first year on a new SIS, the training results were promising. “I crunched the number of internal help desk requests and the number of those that escalated to Skyward support,” explained Mitchem. “We were able to answer four out of five questions ourselves, which is really good.”
Overall Experience: Present Day
Georgetown knew switching to a new SIS was a significant change, but it still ran into some unpredictable challenges. “I think we had the most challenging set of circumstances in the world, but we picked the right software from the very beginning, which helped us overcome personnel challenges, conversion challenges, and configuration challenges,” explained Mitchem.
Through it all, having a strong partnership with its SIS provider and committed staff helped Georgetown persevere. “I can’t tell you how amazed I am at how hard everyone worked, both inside the district and at Skyward, to make this project successful.” explained Mitchem. “Behind this entire process is an awesome software company that listens to our issues and exceeds our needs. It’s a testament to Skyward and the reason we switched.”
As Georgetown moves forward, Mitchem plans to keep a journal of the district’s second year on Skyward to help districts achieve a better understanding of the first two years with a new SIS. “I can’t wait for the second-year version of this story,” stated Mitchem. “We are going to see all the benefits and reasons we converted this next year and in year three we are convinced it’s going to be even better. Skyward is the perfect software to grow with us and that feels really good.”