Skyward’s online enrollment increases accessibility for parents
Imagine this scenario: State mandates force school districts to support eLearning initiatives and run business operations virtually. To comply with the order, districts must re-learn processes that were previously done entirely in person and on paper. What’s more, parents can no longer visit schools to register their kids for the next academic year. Sound familiar?
For Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD), located in the heart of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Texas, with a student enrollment of over 29,000, having an online solution in place felt like one less thing they had to endure during COVID-19.
Bill Young, director of student information systems at GPISD, credits Skyward’s New Student Online Enrollment (NSOE) feature for making their student enrollment convenient for both staff and parents before, during, and after the pandemic.
"Not only are the parents able
to complete the enrollment
online, but the district also
benefits as well."
Bringing new student enrollment online
The switch to an online student enrollment solution for GPISD was a simple decision. Leadership wanted a quick, paperless system that was integrated into their student management system. Since Skyward was already the district’s SIS, adding NSOE to their toolkit was the logical choice.
“A single solution was important versus a separate enrollment software that had to use an export/import or API to get the data into our SIS,” said Young. “We were also looking to get away from a paper enrollment system. Up until that time our district used packets of paper forms that the parents had to fill out. One packet per student.”
Before implementing NSOE, the district wanted staff to be trained properly. A variety of resources were made available for staff training, beginning with informative meetings that showcased the system. Other resources included detailed handouts with written and visual instructions, small group and one-on-one trainings, and a real-time helpline to support campus clerks over the phone.
Grand Prairie ISD began implementing NSOE into their existing Skyward SMS 2.0 system in the spring of 2016, with the goal of registering all new students online for the 2016-2017 school year. Since that time, they have never looked back.
"NSOE has been a great way to receive the information
from the parent, process the information to get the student
enrolled, and communicate back to the parent, all with no face-to-face contact."
To increase parent buy-in and maintain their branding, it was important for GPISD to have their new online student registration feel like their registration for returning students. The main goal for this process was to introduce new parents and families to Skyward, their SIS provider, as soon as they became a part of the GPISD family.
Communicating the roll-out of NSOE to new families was essential to the district. To do this effectively, the district displayed and promoted information on the district website, which included a detailed FAQ and how-to videos, while also communicating through campus staff. Certain events, such as The GPISD Experience, also helped parents learn more about the process of enrolling their kids.
“During the GPISD Experience, parents get a chance to visit with administrators and staff from each of the various schools/programs and are provided information on how to apply for the schools and programs of choice,” said Young. “District officials are also available to guide parents to the NSOE links on the district website and to answer any questions that parents have about the NSOE process.”
Eliminating manual processes while decreasing costs
Reducing paper costs is always one of the biggest advantages of moving to an online system. Prior to NSOE, each campus at GPISD had to print enrollment packets at the beginning of every school year. Since switching to NSOE, the district has seen a 100% electronic new student online enrollment process, inevitably saving the district money.
“NSOE has eliminated paper from the enrollment process in our district,” said Young. “If you combine the costs of the paper, printing, personnel time to print, putting the packets together, collecting them back from parents, and manually entering the data into Skyward, the savings is quite substantial for a district with 41 campuses.”
Apart from becoming a paperless process, NSOE has also helped GPISD clean up their data and eliminate data entry mistakes. Data is verified against primary source documents prior to being imported into Skyward. With NSOE, the district has also erased duplicate entries in the system by notifying the registrar if a record already exists in Skyward.
Convenience for families
Perhaps the biggest impact NSOE has had affects those on the front lines: GPISD parents. As parents, they see the online tool as a resource that saves them time by helping them avoid taking time off from work or finding someone to watch their kids.
“Feedback from parents shows they are happy now that they have the option to complete registration using their computer or the mobile app at any time that’s convenient for them—even after campus hours,” said Young.
In addition, allowing parents to fill out enrollment online is also convenient for the district. From a district perspective, there is also a sense of relief when it comes to security.
“Not only are the parents able to complete the enrollment online, but the district also benefits as well,” said Young. “Having an online tool cuts down on the number of people having to come to our campus or registration room at any one time.”
With any new technology, however, there are bound to be some challenges. Parents that struggle with technology or don’t have access to it at home can find the process difficult. To address this, the district has an area located at each campus where parents can complete the NSOE process with district personnel available to provide any necessary assistance.
Adapting to change and room for improvement
While the district was seeing success with the NSOE implementation within the first year, they also saw areas for improvement.
“As with any process that involves change there was some initial resistance among staff,” said Young. “Several of our campus clerks had been in their positions for many years and were reluctant to move to a new way of doing things.”
To address this, GPISD provided additional training and support, and staff members were quickly able to see how the process would save them time and effort while minimizing steps. Over time, staff became more comfortable with the system.
Grand Prairie ISD’s first year using the NSOE feature provided some additional areas for improvement as well. As they worked through new processes, custom forms, staff feedback, and working with various departments to ensure accuracy, GPISD was able to incorporate positive changes moving forward.
“As with all new processes, the first year was rough, but subsequent years have been very successful with NSOE,” said Young. “Our staff has provided feedback that has led to changes in our NSOE process, especially with our custom forms, that has really streamlined the process and made it less cumbersome to complete.”
"I would highly recommend using NSOE to help the
efficiency of the enrollment and provide improved
communication with the parents."
Necessity during COVID-19
While NSOE is a great tool to have during a normal school year, it has been an even greater asset during COVID-19.
“We are very fortunate that we had NSOE in place, functioning, and that we had to make very little adjustment to our process,” said Young. “NSOE has great functionality during a normal school year and it’s been a definite necessity during this COVID-19 pandemic time.”
Due to the pandemic, GPISD has been able to implement a new feature that allows parents to submit their registration documents, such as birth certificates and proof of residency, online.
“We have wanted to take our NSOE to this next level for a while and this pandemic has pushed us to go to this next step,” said Young. “So far this has been met with success.”
NSOE has been especially convenient during the school closures, particularly in communicating with parents without face-to-face contact.
“NSOE has been a great way to receive the information from the parent, process the information to get the student enrolled, and communicate back to the parent, all with no face-to-face contact,” said Young.
So, what advice does he have for those districts looking to take the step of bringing new student enrollment online?
“Start the process early with testing, train staff members, and advertise the system to parents as much as possible,” said Young. “Working with various departments is another key to making sure forms are accurate and that forms are verified prior to being published.”
GPISD is a testament of how NSOE can make enrollment a more efficient and streamlined process and shows how having an online tool in place during a pandemic can save time and reduce stress for district staff and parents alike.
“I would highly recommend using NSOE to help the efficiency of the enrollment and provide improved communication with the parents,” said Young. “GPISD stands behind Skyward New Student Online Enrollment!”