EdTech Talks with Dr. Chad Jones EdTech Talks with Dr. Chad Jones

EdTech Talks with Dr. Chad Jones

by Avery Faehling
Avery Faehling Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter
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At Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, located in the southwest corner of Houston, over 33,000 students have their attendance taken across 40 locations during the school day. While the district took attendance online for years, it still relied on a paper-based process for identifying and submitting student “no-show” lists, which often took a week to sort through.

Enter Dr. Chad Jones, the district’s director of digital learning, who led the district’s first-ever “Paperless First Day”, a day where the district used Skyward’s attendance and reporting solutions to create an entirely paperless attendance and “no-show” list process. To learn more about how Skyward is helping Lamar CISD go paperless, I sat down to talk with Dr. Jones at iCon 2019. 
Q: Can you give me some background on Lamar CISD and what your role is?
Chad: This is my tenth year at Lamar CISD and my role has grown over those 10 years. I started as a central office technology specialist that helped integrate technology and now my role has morphed into managing larger projects. For example, I oversaw the implementation of our district’s first online gradebook and a new curriculum portal. Eventually, my next project was introducing and overseeing the implementation of Skyward. Now that we’ve been with Skyward for more than five years, most of my job is creating training material and managing the support side of the software. 

To give you some background on Lamar CISD, we are the sixth fastest growing district in the state of Texas. We have over 33,000 students and add about 1,000 to 1,500 students every year. Because of this, we add a new campus every year and hire numerous teachers and administrators to ensure we meet the needs of our community. People want to move to our district—it’s the place to be. More importantly, we haven’t forgotten our mantra as we’ve grown, which is always doing what’s best for kids. From the superintendent down to our bus drivers, everyone works with the purpose of doing what’s best for kids. 

Q: You mentioned that one of your projects was introducing Skyward to Lamar CISD. What qualities were you looking for in an SIS?
Chad: I was looking for how it could make our lives easier. Education is fraught with a lot of work. There's always a lot to be done, therefore I look for tools that will make doing work easier. How can it cut down on clicks? Will it automate our processes and relay information to other tools we use? Those are the things I’m looking for in a student information system. Skyward has checked off every need we’ve ever had and more. 

Skyward meets all our needs and it meets them well. It’s a great gradebook, a great scheduling tool, a great discipline portal, and it meets our state PEIMS requirements. Skyward is constantly evolving and improving based on customer feedback. There are other systems that can meet certain needs, but there is a lot of back-end effort districts need to do before it’s effective. On the other hand, Skyward comes out of the box very powerful and ready to use. Our staff finds it very intuitive. 

Q: Earlier you mentioned creating training materials for your district regarding Skyward. What has been the most effective strategy?
Chad: We started with a few goals. First, we wanted to control the messaging and sentiment around Skyward because new technology is a big shift, whether you are training a current employee or a new hire. Second, we wanted a strategy that would be sustainable and supportable for years to come.

After evaluating our options, we decided to create a video library that was tailored to our district’s Skyward-related processes. When our Skyward trainer would come in, we’d have them visit our studio for a short period of time to recreate the training in two to five-minute videos. We wanted something digestible, content specific, fun, and easy to find. Withdrawing students or changing grades aren’t the most exciting tasks, but we made them fun because we need our staff to enjoy learning certain processes, otherwise we are back to square one. 

Looking back, we have saved probably three to six hours of training per teacher before the first day of school thanks to our video training. We have a great staff; we simply needed to provide them with the resources to succeed. 

Q: You must have trained them well considering your district pulled off a “Paperless First Day.” Can you tell me more about that initiative? 
Chad: It started when someone from Skyward challenged us to only take attendance digitally starting on the first day of school. We knew it was going to be a tough task because we handled our first day “no-show” list in a more traditional way, which meant utilizing a lot of paperwork. Our district would print out rosters and hand them to teachers. The teachers would then mark students present or absent, and finally, the teacher would hand a huge stack of papers to the attendance clerk who would go through and tally the information. It was a hot mess. 

When we switched every attendance process to Skyward, the system did all the work for us. Within one day, Skyward drastically cut down the time it once took us to complete our “no-show” lists. Our “no-show” list at a high school would take upwards of a week because we have over 200 teachers who submit their rosters. On the first day of school, we were done by noon thanks to Skyward’s attendance feature. Now we encourage our neighboring districts to participate in “Paperless First Day” with us because it was such a success. 

Q: We are doing this interview at iCon 2019. What are you looking forward to at the conference this year?
Chad: First, let me say I love the feedback sessions Skyward holds at iCon. I love seeing education leaders come together with the purpose of improving our learning environment. It’s rewarding to see our feedback and opinions implemented into tangible solutions within the system.  

Second, iCon is the place to be. It is the place to learn about the biggest and newest features from Skyward, which is why I come to the conference. It’s an opportunity to see what’s coming down the road and how we can evolve with the system. 

Q: Speaking of leaders in education, can you talk about what it means to be nominated for the Leader in Excellence (LIE) award?
Chad: It was a huge honor to be nominated for the LIE award; however, Skyward and Lamar CISD are not the Chad show. I have an incredible team of folks, from our PEIMS coordinator to our research assessment accountability office. They do the hard work of training our teachers well, supporting our staff, and ensuring we meet state requirements. They do the hard legwork that sometimes goes unrecognized.

I see this award as a representation of my team. It represents our work and our people, and my goal is to keep empowering and supporting our team to achieve new heights. This is a Lamar CISD award; it just happens to have my name at the top because I have an incredible team that I'm fortunate to work with. 

Q: How do you see your partnership with Skyward growing in the next five years?
Chad: We plan to switch to Qmlativ, which will be huge. Our programming team is excited for the SQL back-end. I think Qmlativ’s look and feel will only make the system more intuitive for our staff. I also see Skyward’s strong emphasis on interoperability paying off for us. The more we can connect our systems, the more effective I see our district becoming. 


Follow-Up Resource: 11 Creative Uses for Online Forms 

Continue the paperless movement! If you’re looking to cut down on paper and save on printing and distribution costs in the process, this post is for you.  


Avery Faehling Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter
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