In its search for a top-knotch student information system, the Stevens Point Area School District had to look no further than its own backyard. A Skyward customer for over 20 years, the district is using the School Management System to serve over 7,000 students across 13 schools.
Stevens Point was relying on a traditional, paper-based system to communicate academic and other school information among staff, parents, and students. As the district grew and the school took on the increased demands of No Child Left Behind, the shortcomings of the manual method became readily apparent.
Teachers and other staff members spent hours working to stay up to speed. Delays were imminent when communicating with parents. Printing and mailing costs escalated. Administrators, teachers, and staff realized they needed a more efficient, cost-effective, and timely communication solution.
"NOW, WHEN WE TALK TO PARENTS, THEY...PUT US ON HOLD WHILE THEY BRING UP THE INFORMATION ON THEIR COMPUTER SO THEY CAN SEE IT AS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT IT WITH THEM."
The district made the decision to implement Skyward’s Gradebook and Family Access programs for the 2003-2004 school year. By implementing these programs, the school would be rolling out a secure web portal for improved communication and transparency among all stakeholders including teachers, parents, and students.
The Gradebook gives teachers access to a web-based tool that makes setting up and grading assignments, tests, and quizzes easier and more efficient. All of these features are accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Family Access is a web-based communication center that gives parents and guardians immediate, secure, 24/7 access to grades, daily assignments, discipline incidents, and attendance records without having to contact the school. Because the information is immediately available, parents can raise their questions and concerns in a timelier manner and are empowered to respond more effectively.
"WITH [THE] GRADEBOOK, OUR TEACHERS HAVE THIS COMMON TEMPLATE, SO...WE'RE ABLE TO HELP EACH OTHER MUCH MORE."
A Teacher's Perspective
Jeff Mlsna is a science teacher at P.J. Jacobs Junior High School. He had a firsthand look at the way Skyward improved communication and increased efficiency within the district. Mlsna is particularly impressed with Skyward’s Gradebook and the way it functions as an extension of his classroom calendar. “I’ve gotten into a process where I post my assignments for the upcoming week on Gradebook,” he said. “This way parents can see both what is coming up as well as what their children scored on previous assignments. They can also see the dates that tests are going to be on.”
Mlsna is especially pleased that Skyward’s Gradebook makes it so much easier to generate reports. “This has been a great timesaver. Everything is already tabulated in the program, so basically by clicking a button I can start entering comments. With the comments bank, though, instead of typing out a comment I can type in an equivalent key code. Now I can get all of the data put together in one evening versus what would have taken several nights to do before.”
Improved communication between the school and parents
According to Mlsna, the combination of Gradebook and Family Access has resulted in significantly improved communication between the school and parents. “Gradebook and Family Access help make communication with parents more objective because of the immediacy of the data that parents are seeking,” he said. Before implementing these two programs, Mlsna said teachers would call parents to give them an update to the last grade report they received, which may have been two or three weeks earlier. “Now when we talk to parents, they ask us if they can put us on hold while they bring up the information on their computer so they can see it as we are talking about
it with them.”
Improved communication between students and parents
Mlsna also believes Gradebook and Family Access have helped improve communication between students and their parents about school. “If students tell their parents they don’t have any homework, Gradebook gives parents the ability to verify what their children are telling them. Parents can quickly verify if their children turned in an assignment or not.”
Improved communication among teachers
Mlsna appreciates the way Gradebook allows him to work more effectively with other teachers. “With Gradebook, our teachers have this common template, so when we talk to one another we’re able to help each other much more. Before Gradebook, we had some teachers using paper and pencil and others using another computer program. We had all of these different ways of doing reports and parents would get all of these different-looking reports as a result,” he said. Now when he sits down now with his colleagues to discuss a particular student, Mlsna said they each refer to grade reports that look the same and have the same headings, thus making it much easier to have an effective discussion.
"I DEFINITELY THINK WE HAVE MORE COMMUNICATION ABOUT SCHOOL IN OUR FAMILY BECAUSE OF FAMILY ACCESS. WE ARE MORE AWARE NOW OF WHAT IS GOING ON."
A Parent's Perspective
Lori Courtney, a parent of two children in the Stevens Point Area School District, appreciates the improved communication that has resulted from Family Access. “I think this is a great tool, and it’s very easy to use,” she said. “I can login and see how my kids are doing, and if they get a low score or grade we can talk about it and find out what is going on. I like the way it helps to keep you in better communication with your children.”
Courtney added that she logs into the program several times a week and that her two children frequently use the program to check on how they are doing with their classes. “For example, my daughter will login and check her grade on a test. And then she’ll click on the test and the program will tell her the entire range of scores, from the lowest to the highest.”
Courtney said she wouldn’t change a thing about Skyward Family Access. “I definitely think we have more communication about school in our family because of Family Access. We are more aware now of what is going on.”
Courtney, who is also an educational assistant at P.J. Jacobs, uses Skyward’s Gradebook to oversee a structured study hall at the school. “With Gradebook, I have accurate records of students’ grades so I’m able to help them when they fall behind,” she explained. “I can login to Gradebook and look at their profile to see any missing homework they have, their grades, and their attendance. It’s definitely quick and efficient, and it’s very easy to use and navigate.”
Courtney likes how the Gradebook and Family Access features have helped improve communication within the school between teachers and staff. She described an instance when she checked a student’s grades and noticed an unusually low score. “I emailed the teacher without even leaving the program and received a reply from this teacher only minutes later explaining the reason for the low grade,” she said. “The question about her test score was cleared up right away. Without Gradebook, the situation could have gone on for days.”
By functioning as two complementary programs and comprising a secure web portal, Gradebook and Family Access are succeeding in supporting and enhancing student achievement at P.J. Jacobs and the greater Stevens Point Area School District.
Mlsna said a group of educators at P.J. Jacobs works closely with Skyward to submit, discuss, modify, and implement changes to the program. “Skyward has been awesome about working with us to make the program more robust, so it can really do what we want it to.”
Follow-up resource: Student Management Suite
Do you believe in the power of effective communication and an engaged community? To learn more, check out the Student Management Suite.