EdTech Talks with Mary Mitchem EdTech Talks with Mary Mitchem

EdTech Talks with Mary Mitchem

#District Stories
by Avery Faehling
Avery Faehling Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter

Editor's Note: This post is a sequel to this first-year implementation story.  

Two and a half years ago, Georgetown Independent School District implemented Skyward’s Student Management Suite and documented its first-year journey with a new student information system (SIS). 
 
Mary Mitchem, the district’s information systems manager, sat down to talk about what the district’s first year looked like on Skyward’s SIS and how things are shaping up heading into year three.


Q: Welcome back. It’s great to catch up since our last conversation about Georgetown’s first-year implementation! Looking back on that time, what are some of your thoughts from year one?
Mary: SIS first-year implementations are always the hardest for a school district because they encompass so many features and touch so many staff members. One of the key factors in our first-year success with Skyward was having support. We had a district board of trustees, administration, leadership, and Skyward that fully supported us during implementation. I can’t say enough about our staff’s patience and commitment throughout the entire process.

As with any district implementing new technology, we made a lot of mistakes our first year, and even our second year, but we always felt that we had the full support of our district and our Skyward implementation team in this project, and that makes all the difference in a successful implementation.  


Q: It sounds like your district really emphasized culture, patience, and buy-in before making the move to a new SIS.
Mary: Absolutely. The first year on a new student system is about survival, the second year is about competency, and the third year is about mastery. Districts shouldn’t be focused on perfection in year one. They should be focused on building up small wins and successes. We are now in the middle of our third year with Skyward and our culture and buy-in has paid off. We are seeing the many results of what we learned during the first two years and the benefits of having such a full-featured student information system. The key is to learn and grow with the system, and Skyward’s capabilities and flexibility have helped a lot with that.


Q: With that being said, how did things look in year two?
Mary: In our first year with Skyward, we took a lot on because we were thrilled to have the additional capabilities Skyward provided such as scheduling, grading, attendance, food service, and a family portal, to name a few. 

In our second year with Skyward, we took a deep breath and slowed down. We implemented Skyward’s Health Services solution and built out endorsements, graduation requirements, and career plans. Once we covered those bases and felt good with where we were at, we branched into the Fee Management area as well. 

Now that we are going into our third year with Skyward, we’ve added standards-based grading for our K-2 students, and started to use the kiosks for attendance, counselor office visits, and nurse office visits more fully. With each year we’ve been with Skyward, we’ve identified a pace that works for us and it has led to so many great improvements.


Q: That’s fantastic! Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect on your experiences a few years in, what is the biggest difference between Skyward and your previous SIS?
Mary: The biggest change for us is the ability to have almost everything we need to know about a student in one system. Prior to Skyward, our course request process and high school 4-year plans, intervention, food service, and health services modules were all in separate, stand-alone systems. Sometimes we would experience disconnects between these systems and we would spend hours trying to reconcile them. For example, sometimes the free and reduced lunch status of a student did not get updated accurately from the food service system, where it is used for billing, to the student system, where it is critical for state and federal reporting on economically disadvantaged status.  

Before Skyward, our enrollment and student registration processes were paper-based so it was difficult to get accurate data on anticipated enrollment during the spring and summer when registrars were off-duty, but the hiring process was in full swing. With Skyward’s online enrollment and registration solutions, that has completely changed. 

Skyward has allowed us to integrate all these features and more, helping us know more about our students without needing to switch between multiple systems or paper files to do so. This is why the student profile in Skyward is incredibly powerful and has continued to be a selling feature for us.


Q: It sounds like your data was spread across multiple systems. Speaking of which, how does your data in Skyward look now?
Mary: I will be honest; the biggest challenge in our old system, and even converting to a new system, is data conversion. In year one on Skyward, we converted our high school grade history, custom GPAs, and transcripts. We spent a lot of time verifying and cleaning up our old data issues.
 
Fortunately, Skyward’s design allows us to fix a grade history issue in one place, the curriculum master record, and automatically correct the issue everywhere in the system. We spent the time in year one making sure our curriculum master was accurate. In year two, we digitized our entire course catalog using the curriculum master feature to make sure we had every course description available in Skyward. 

Our emphasis on data integrity and accuracy has paid off in big ways. The process of calculating rank and GPA along with producing the course guides each year is now much easier than it ever was before. Plus, we post our transcripts to the portfolio in Family Access, which has created greater transparency and open communication with parents and students. 


Q: To close things out, do you have any goals you’re still trying to achieve with Skyward in future years?
Mary: We feel really good about where we’re at currently, but I will say this—students and parents are full partners in the education of students. I can remember the days when printed report cards and progress reports were the only way parents were informed about their students' progress.

I believe Skyward, as an integrated student management system, gradebook, and family portal, provides our families with an open window to their own education and allows us to be more responsive to their questions and feedback.  If we were to focus on any one area that we want to expand and develop, it would be putting information in the hands of everyone who needs it, especially parents and students. That is the power of Skyward.

 

Follow-up resource: Family Access and Internal Communication Case Study

Learn more about putting information in the hands of parents and students in this district's story on Family Access and Internal Communication


 

Avery Faehling Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter


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