District reflects on successful implementation, overcoming big district challenges, and strong state reporting as a result of thriving relationship.
With a 51,000-student population, 8,500 employees, and 68 campuses, having the right student information system to operate efficiently is an absolute necessity. But ensuring that your solution is a true partner is perhaps just as essential to keeping things running smoothly.
For anyone who has worked in a large district, receiving strong customer support, having your voice heard, and knowing that your SIS provider is willing to accommodate your unique challenges through implementation and beyond is imperative.
Pasadena Independent School District in Pasadena Texas, about 25 minutes southeast of Houston, knew they would require some extra support from a partner who understood the unique needs of large districts and would work with them to achieve their goals. They soon found an SIS provider that was up to the challenge.
Beverly Whitton, PEIMS coordinator at Pasadena ISD, had worked with Skyward at a smaller district prior to Pasadena ISD. Due to her previous experience with the vendor, she advocated for the purchase of Skyward’s SIS solution. Three years later, Whitton and the district are not looking back, largely because of the ongoing support they continue to receive.
"Now we are able to have everything in one place, saving us loads of time and headaches. For example, the Skyward Health Module does away with the cost and support of our previous third-party health office system."
A new SIS opportunity
Prior to switching to Skyward’s Qmlativ Student Management Suite, Pasadena ISD faced some issues with their previous software provider. One challenge was looking at data from a high level. District administrators had to switch campuses to look at data, rather than looking at it from a district-wide perspective. For a district with 68 campuses, this became difficult.
Another challenge was that their previous software required third-party software to do crucial tasks. One lacking feature was a grade book, which meant that the district had to purchase an additional system to manage grades and discipline. Another missing feature was one at managed the student health office, again requiring an outside system to keep track of.
"It became frustrating to have to switch systems all of the time,” said Whitton. “Now we are able to have everything in one place, saving us loads of time and headaches. For example, the Skyward Health Module does away with the cost and support of our previous third-party health office system."
When Pasadena ISD learned their previous software was going away, the district saw a perfect opportunity to begin looking for an SIS that better fit their needs.
Whitton took it upon herself to begin this search, with Skyward being at the top of her list. To convince others at Pasadena ISD who had never seen Skyward, Whitton began researching other districts in Texas to look at what software they were on and when/if they would move to another product. She found that very few districts left Skyward after purchasing the product, while districts using competitors often left quickly.
“The fact that people were not ditching Skyward after purchasing, it really stood out to me,” said Whitton.
From there, Whitton spoke with others in her district to get them to consider moving to Skyward.
“I talked with our technology department and let them know that based on my previous experience, I felt like Skyward was the best product out there for us to go with,” explained Whitton.
To make their final decision, Pasadena ISD used an 82-member selection committee made up of district administrators, teachers, parents, and students. When the results came in, a high percentage of the committee chose Skyward.
Once others at the district saw the solution and were on board, they chose Qmlativ as the system that best fit their requirements as a large district.
"I talked with our technology department and let them know that based on my previous experience, I felt like Skyward was the best product out there for us to go with"
The road to implementation: ongoing training and support
When Pasadena ISD began implementing Qmlativ in July 2017, the district knew that their size would require a strategy to get everyone trained. Early in the process, they created a steering committee of nine people from various departments to oversee implementation while their Skyward project manager led them through the entire process.
To keep Pasadena ISD on track with their implementation, the district did many things to ensure a smooth process, starting with increased communication. Since Pasadena ISD implemented Qmlativ alongside two other Texas districts, North East ISD and Boerne ISD, the three often met to discuss the process.
Due to the size of the district, Pasadena ISD had some extra training sessions in which a Skyward trainer was always in the room. The district also had weekly and monthly calls with the Skyward team to address any outstanding issues.
The district also took it upon themselves to create some additional training opportunities for staff. One such project was creating a “Qmlativ Navigation 101” manual that covered specific ways to do tasks within the Skyward system to ensure consistent results throughout the district.
In addition, the district implemented the Knowledge Hub, a training repository within Skyward.
“As we were getting ready to train our users, we would have them go out and do the work in the Knowledge Hub and go through the training process to get them familiar with Qmlativ,” said Whitton.
Finally, the district ramped up training before the first day of the 2018-2019 school year to solidify staff knowledge.
“Gearing up for the first day of school, we had a two-hour training session twice a day for several weeks to get everybody trained,” said Whitton.
By the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Pasadena ISD was up and running with Qmlativ, but the support from Skyward didn’t stop there. To ensure that things were working well at the district, Skyward’s implementation team continued to monitor and touch base for about a year afterwards.
Big district, big challenges
Before working at Pasadena ISD, Whitton worked in a smaller district, giving her insight on the differences between small versus large districts.
“Small districts sometimes have work-arounds that are easy to do because you can just go in and fix a few things, but at a large district, that is a lot harder to do,” said Whitton.
In addition, large districts require streamlined processes.
“In a large district, you don’t have time for long processes that you have to handle at the campus level,” said Whitton. “With 68 campuses, things need to be to be done at the district level. If I have to do something 68 times, it gets very time-consuming.”
Pasadena ISD struggled with this when they first came to Skyward, which has since been fixed.
“We explained our concerns to Skyward and they have made it where we can do a lot at the district level that we once had to do at the campus level,” said Whitton. “We worked through the kinks and we feel like we made the best decision by going with Skyward.”
“From the three years we’ve been on Skyward, they’ve listened to our concerns and I feel that they really made a lot of progress on accommodating our large district needs,” said Whitton.
Another thing that helped Pasadena ISD overcome challenges with their Skyward system has been the Product Ideas Portal
, where they have been active in sharing their ideas and urging others to vote on them.
"I truly love the reporting capabilities in Qmlativ!"
As the PEIMS coordinator at Pasadena ISD, Whitton’s expertise lies in state and federal reporting, so she is aware of how well Skyward supports their unique reporting requirements.
“I truly love the reporting capabilities in Qmlativ,” said Whitton.
Whitton stated that her favorite feature is the ability to filter data so she can easily find what she needs, drop it into a spreadsheet, and share it with other stakeholders. Better yet, once people receive the data, they can filter it even further if needed. Additionally, users can lock that data in so other users cannot run a new extract or modify any data. In a large district where data is being sent back and forth often, these capabilities are essential.
Another favorite of Whitton’s is the ability to schedule PEIMS extracts. During this extract process, most of the edits are validated. The district is also able to address a large number of errors before the files are validated within the state validation tools.
As a large district, Pasadena ISD’s reporting submissions usually take longer than others to build and extract. Whitton stated that their summer submission, which is usually the largest of the year, takes about two hours, which is great for the district’s size.
Some other capabilities that Whitton mentioned that she particularly enjoys and that make her job much easier include:
- The ability for users to mass update data and run any additional information needed, even before it is submitted.
- The no show button, which gives the user the ability to configure when a student is a no show then decide how the system classifies the information, allowing a one-click process when no showing a student.
- Changing views and having multiple views, which also has the option to save views and go back to them if needed.
Whitton often networks and chats with other PEIMS coordinators, giving her insight to Skyward’s state reporting tools, which helps them eliminate reporting mistakes.
“The other PEIMS coordinators and I often talk about state reporting issues that we are facing, and I don’t recall Skyward ever leaving us with a submission where they didn’t fix a specific issue required for a submission,” said Whitton.
Districts also faced many hurdles in the past year due to COVID-19, but Skyward kept afoot of the changes and adjustments districts needed to make when it came to reporting.
“This year has been challenging with COVID-19 and all of the remote attendance, and I really do believe that Skyward was on the front line with updates and how they were going to help us handle remote attendance,” said Whitton. “It was painful and challenging, but there was a lot that Skyward did, and they were able to stay ahead of the game. Not everyone can say that about their product.”
Support doesn’t stop at implementation
Although Pasadena ISD’s Qmlativ system is well-established after three years of use, there are still some improvements and adjustments to make.
“Skyward is always there to help us tweak things in our system,” said Whitton. “Our district was able to use a product owner throughout our implementation, and they were great about meeting with us often and letting us know about easier ways for us to do certain tasks.”
Additionally, Skyward reaches out to districts for feedback when new tools and features are being considered.
“As Skyward makes changes or enhancements, they are really good at contacting the user and asking ‘Can we show you what we want to do? Can you give us any feedback? Do you have any better suggestions?’,” said Whitton.
For other districts considering a switch to Qmlativ, Whitton’s biggest suggestion is to be open to changes.
“Since I was used to SMS 2.0, when Pasadena ISD first started looking at Qmlativ, I didn’t like it because it wasn’t what I was used to,” said Whitton. “Eventually I started liking Qmlativ more, and now I love it.”
Now that Whitton and Pasadena ISD are fully committed to Qmlativ, they are advocates for others.
“I tell the people using SMS 2.0 that although there will be some kinks to work out in the beginning, Qmlativ will be worth your time,” said Whitton. “There are so many more features in Qmlativ than are available in SMS 2.0.”
“Qmlativ is now a product that is ready for other districts to start benefitting from as well.”