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Advice from a District Data Expert (Featuring Michigan’s Tim Howard) Advice from a District Data Expert (Featuring Michigan’s Tim Howard)

Advice from a District Data Expert (Featuring Michigan’s Tim Howard)

Lauren Gilchrist Lauren Gilchrist Edtech Thought Leader
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Tim Howard, a programmer and data specialist at Calhoun Intermediate School District, is a familiar face in education, helping districts around the world maximize their use of Skyward. We talked with Tim about his favorite Skyward tools, attending iCon, and his advice for you. Check out our conversation!

Calhoun ISD assists many other school districts in Michigan each year. Can you explain your role and Calhoun ISD’s unique structure?

My official role is programmer and school data specialist at Calhoun Intermediate School District, which isn’t technically a school district. We provide services and support for many districts across four counties in Michigan. Of the districts we serve, 18 use Skyward. My department provides various technology services ranging from software and hardware to the fiber backbone and data transfers. At the end of the day, my number one job duty is to fulfill the technology needs of our districts so they can provide a quality education for our kids.


What are your favorite Skyward tools? Which would you recommend to other districts?

SkyBuild is certainly up there. Calhoun ISD provides reports and import/export templates to the districts. Being able to create a single template in SkyBuild or Data Mining and then import it into every district saves a lot of time. Some of these templates have even been shared with other districts around the state.

Another tool that is seldom used, but is so, so powerful is SkyCoder. I love SkyCoder. I remember my first state user group when I attended a session to learn more about SkyCoder. The second I saw its capabilities I began scribbling notes. Since that day, I love when people across the country ask me whether Skyward can do a certain task. I tell them, “Of course” and immediately open SkyCoder. I take a few minutes, write a snippet of code, send it to them, and everything works with ease. So, in terms of favorite solutions, SkyCoder stands out—I guess that’s my inner geek taking over.


You are a regular attendee at iCon, Skyward’s international conference. What would you tell others about this experience?

The thing that I enjoy about iCon as opposed to other state conferences is the ability to meet a lot of people from around the country. I have learned so much from districts who aren’t from Michigan. We talk about strategies we use, as well as challenges we all share.

I also learn a lot attending sessions where people from other states present. And I learn from talking to the people who attend the sessions I present myself. At the end of the day, it’s the people—the people are the number one thing that makes iCon great.


What advice would you offer other Skyward users, especially those in similar roles to yours?

Make use of the Skyward Favorites feature. I help provide support for 18 Skyward districts, which certainly creates challenges. The first thing I do is set up my Skyward Favorites in each district. While each district is different, I usually work in the same areas—SkyBuild, Data Mining, Secured Users, etc. I set up my Favorites to be able to quickly access these areas.

Use the shortcuts! Some of my favorites are simple shortcuts for entering dates. Did you know that in almost any date field in Skyward, typing “T” puts in today’s date, “Y” is yesterday, and “R” or “W” is tomorrow? You can also hit the plus (+) or minus (-) keys to add or subtract days from the date in the field.

The other advice I would give is to be creative. That doesn’t necessarily mean people need to be creative with solutions to problems, but rather be creative with the tools at your disposal. You need to consider everything around you, not just one or two tools. I’ve been using Skyward for about nine years now, and I’m still finding new, powerful solutions.


We hope you enjoyed our conversation with Tim and found his advice helpful. We’d like to close with this beautiful quote from Tim: “I feel that if I can do something that benefits someone else to make their lives a little bit easier, if I can help kids grow up to be smart, good human beings, then I'm doing what I set out to do each day.”
 

Follow-Up Resource: Data Automation with SkyBuild

Learn more about one of Tim’s favorite tools, SkyBuild, in this guest post.


 


Lauren Gilchrist Lauren Gilchrist Edtech Thought Leader


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