In a perfect special education world, teachers and administrators would have more time, easy access to accurate IEPs, and collaborate often with other stakeholders to enhance students’ educational experience. Unfortunately, like too many other districts, Dillingham City School District was not experiencing any of these ideal results and instead was struggling with an outdated, paper-based system that often forced teachers to brave the harsh Alaskan winter weather to walk across an icy parking lot to a separate building for files. It had difficulty keeping track of current IEPs, a lack of collaboration and communication between educators, and poor state compliance.
The district, which had been using PowerSchool Student Information System for student data management, added web-based PowerSchool Special Education and now experiences up-to-date, easy-to-access IEPs, and reduced administrative effort—leaving time for educator collaboration on IEP development and improving state compliance. Plus, there were no more unnecessary trips across an icy parking lot to search through paper records.
“PowerSchool Special Education has been an excellent solution that is making us nearly 50 percent more efficient, saving at least 70 administrative hours every year, and has improved state compliance from below 50 percent to 92 percent,” says Elizabeth Clark, special education coordinator and former special education teacher at Dillingham City School District.
Nestled on the edge of Wood-Tikchik State Park, the largest state park in the U.S., Dillingham City School District in Alaska serves just over 400 K-12 students in three schools.
Dillingham City has six special education teachers and itinerant specialists devoted to more than 10 specialized programs involving special education.
Prior to PowerSchool Special Education, Elizabeth Clark, Special Education Coordinator and former special education teacher at Dillingham City, had recognized that the district’s paper-based special education system was confusing and didn’t accurately keep track of current IEPs. Educators struggled to find the most current document, and ultimately, staff collaboration was non-existent because access to current information was limited.
Built by educators for educators, PowerSchool Special Education offered Dillingham City School District a fully web-based and customizable solution to manage compliance, intervention and all special education services with real-time updates and single sign-on access with PowerSchool SIS. The district found the system easy to use and designed to guide its users through intuitive workflows that improved efficiency.
“With PowerSchool Special Education, both general education and special education teachers now have easy access, related service providers can now enter their reports into the IEP paperwork itself, rather than submitting reports to the department, and overall workflow has become much more streamlined and efficient,” says Clark. “We now know at a glance the most recent documents, and it has helped to create a culture of knowledge management and sharing district-wide.”
Empowering teachers by giving them necessary information at their fingertips leads to greater general education participation in the special education process. When Dillingham City School District gave its educators better access with PowerSchool Special Education, it started seeing positive results immediately, including more informed IEP meetings.
“We’ve seen a massive turnaround in our paperwork now starting to positively affect our collaboration between general and special education staff,” Clark says. “Anybody with access to PowerSchool Special Education now magically has access to their student’s IEPs. So there’s no more tracking down special education teachers, trying to print a file, trying to remember where your file was within the filing cabinet. These challenges have been completely eliminated.”
Dillingham City School District has taken note to the improved collaboration within their staff from department to department. “Recently I was at an IEP meeting where a general education teacher asked about accommodations, modifications, and discussed goals in depth at the meeting. This is a pretty big jump for us. It’s really cool to see a computer program that facilitates this kind of valuable collaboration.”
Before PowerSchool Special Education, the process for notifying classroom teachers that a student in their class had an IEP was manual, involving either downloading and emailing the information, or printing and hand delivering IEPs. Now, with PowerSchool Special Education, teachers receive alerts within the system for IEPs, 504 plans, intervention plans or other documents. Once they receive the alert, teachers can open it, see what accommodations or support are needed for that student, and act.
“Our special education teachers love the program. Every day I get an email saying, ‘I can’t believe that you can do this in PowerSchool,’” says Clark.
When teachers must spend too much time on paperwork and administrative tasks, student instruction time suffers and teachers can experience burnout from trying to get it all done. While IEP documentation will always be necessary, PowerSchool Special Education can lessen the administrative tasks by streamlining processes.
For Dillingham City School District, the improved workflow and elimination of many menial tasks have resulted in more valuable staff time. According to Clark, what once took “hours and hours to match page numbers to signature pages and dates can be done by simply hitting the finalize button and the paperwork is filed.” Previously, one part-time support staff was spending four hours each day filing special education paperwork, making labels, and organizing folders. Now that the district has gone mostly paperless with PowerSchool Special Education, this administrative time has been reduced to one hour per week.
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