EdTech Talks with Stephanie Kaack Avery Faehling by Avery Faehling Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter Read time: Whose support impacts student outcomes the most? Coaches? Classmates? Teachers? All good answers, but none have a more direct impact than parents. Without parent support, student achievement rates would fall, and accountability would sputter. However, with the right leadership and tools in place, districts can strengthen parent engagement initiatives and better support student learning. Manteno Community Unit School District No. 5 (Manteno CUSD 5), located south of Chicago, is an example of parent engagement done right. Parents stay informed and involved in their children’s education, teachers maintain steady communication, and students perform at higher levels—and it’s all thanks to the strong relationship between Manteno CUSD 5 leadership and Skyward. To see how district leadership is using Skyward to further parent engagement, I talked with Stephanie Kaack, Manteno CUSD 5’s data coordinator and 2018 Skyward Leader in Excellence (LIE) winner to learn more. Q: I hear you were nominated a record four times for the Leader in Excellence awards. That’s a huge accomplishment. What does your role look like at Manteno CUSD 5? Stephanie: I started with Manteno CUSD 5 in 2010 as an administrative assistant and moved into the role of data coordinator in 2013. One of my primary responsibilities is managing our Skyward database—a lot of people call me the Skyward guru [laughing]. I do almost all our staff Skyward trainings. I have also worked with local districts to assist them with any Skyward questions they may have. My goal is to find easier ways to do things using Skyward and help people use Skyward to its potential, essentially making everyone’s job easier. From a recognition perspective, it was a huge honor to be nominated for the Leader in Excellence Award, especially four times. I was extremely surprised and grateful for the support. My district has been using Skyward since 1999. Personally, it’s been exciting watching it evolve from PaC, to SMS 2.0, and now Qmlativ. Q: In your nomination, a lot was said about the strong parent engagement in your district. Can you tell me a little bit about Manteno CUSD 5’s parent engagement philosophy? Stephanie: We put a big emphasis on transparency. Most of what we can see as administrators, parents can see in Skyward’s Family Access. We try not to limit much. We want to be as open as possible with our parents. After all, it is their kids they are trusting us with. Q: You mentioned Skyward’s Family Access solution is helping engage parents. What other ways are you using Skyward to provide a better experience to staff and parents? Stephanie: We are advocates for Skyward, and Skyward users. We have constantly been one of the first to volunteer as beta testers. It’s always a pleasure helping shape the product and make it the best it can be. Skyward has simplified the things we do, streamlined many of our processes, and reduced so many costs. The list could go on and on. I think one of the greatest benefits has been student registration, which has essentially become paperless over the years. When I started eight years ago, we were still stuffing and mailing home registration packets for parents to complete. Now, students register online and it’s saving staff, parents, and students more time. We are also transforming our parent-teacher conference processes. This year we didn't just have parents and teachers sign up for conferences through Skyward. We took it a step further and used Skyward’s Conference Scheduler to find time slots that worked for guidance counselors to get them more involved in the discussion since they play such an important role. Q: Are there any parent engagement roadblocks you faced prior that Skyward has helped solve? Stephanie: Report cards and the awareness around grades were an issue in the past, but now that we have live gradebooks thanks to Skyward, parents see exactly how their student is doing in real-time. In fact, we eliminated paper report cards at the middle school and high school levels. The Course Learning Center has also taken our parent engagement to new levels, especially at our middle school. Parents are heavily involved and can participate more with their kids’ assignments. Another parent engagement area we struggled with was discipline notifications. When students were responsible for bringing home their “parent notification” reports, which detailed discipline infractions, parents claimed they never knew their kid had a detention. With the help of Skyward, we have deployed automatic emails so parents are notified in a more timely, and reliable manner. As soon as an action detail is assigned, the parent and student are both notified. There is no more saying "I didn't know..." We have email proof both the parent and student received the notification. As a result, the number of skipped detentions has dropped significantly. Q: As a Skyward advocate and someone who has used the software for a long time, do you have any advice to give districts considering a move to Skyward? Stephanie: If districts want to up their state reporting game, they need to look at Skyward! I couldn’t imagine doing some of our state reports without Skyward’s powerful reporting tool. For anyone that just moved or even those that have been using it for a while—maximize Skyward. I tell my staff that all the time. I think it’s important to familiarize yourself and understand what Skyward is capable of. Check out SkyDoc or the Help Center, watch Skyward Academy webinars, attend User Groups, view Quick Hits videos—do anything possible to ensure you’re learning the full capability of Skyward. And don’t be afraid to reach out to Skyward for guidance because their primary goal is to give you the best possible experience. I’m also a parent with students in the district and I’m very grateful that I have full access to their information. My step-son, however, is enrolled at a school district that doesn’t use Skyward, and their parent portal is very limited compared to Skyward. From a parent perspective, Skyward is wonderful! Follow-up resource: Family Access Learn more about creating a one-stop spot for parents to get the story of their child's progress. Explore Family Access. Avery Faehling Front Lines Reporter Share this story: Want tips, tricks, and feature updates delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up here!