SIS – Hatboro-Horsham School District in Pennsylvania

September 08, 2016

How often do you use a product that doesn’t just meet your expectations, but far exceeds them?

When Pennsylvania’s Hatboro-Horsham School District was looking for a new student information system (SIS) in 2002, its primary goal was a system offering real-time student data and a parent portal for improved communication with families. But what it received was a comprehensive solution that transformed its entire system of business practices.

“We had a very static SIS, and we really needed to get some real-time data collection for our secretaries, our staff members, and also, most importantly, for our parents,” says Betty Wagner, Hatboro-Horsham School District Coordinator of Information Technology. “Primarily, PowerSchool was chosen for the real-time gradebook and parent portal. But as we started using it, we recognized that the system offered us a much more important solution for the district. PowerSchool helped flush out our inconsistencies in business practices and brought us a uniform location for data collection to give us the ability for better reporting. PowerSchool is saving us time, improving parent communication, ensuring student accountability, and much more.”

Overview

Located in Montgomery County in suburban Philadelphia, Hatboro- Horsham School District serves around 5,000 students within seven schools, including a high school, middle school, and five elementary schools. When the district chose PowerSchool Student Information System to replace its previous SIS, it had the following challenges:

  • No access to real-time data collection
  • No parent portal
  • Inconsistency between SIS and other systems
  • Inflexible data tracking
  • Poor state reporting capabilities and support

“We wanted that real-time experience for parents so they could look up their student, find out if they were in class that day and also see their grades.

We wanted to gather data from all the departments and get everything into one system. Then we wanted to make sure our stakeholders could get the reports and data out of the system that they needed to efficiently do their jobs,” says Wagner.

When the district partnered with PowerSchool to address its challenges, district leaders knew that adopting a new system would be difficult for some users to embrace.

“People can be reluctant to face new changes. We tried not  to introduce all of the product at once, but instead take baby steps with taking attendance being the first one. We saved an enormous amount of time with the new real-time attendance. We were also able to get much of staff correspondence into PowerSchool as well as print letters and forms directly from the system without doing mail merges. Once our users saw the results of what they could do with PowerSchool, and the time saved by skipping all of the unnecessary steps that they used to do, we quickly had staff adoption,” Wagner says.

Better Business Practices

Hatboro-Horsham School District credits PowerSchool with helping to improve its business practices by uncovering data collection inefficiencies. PowerSchool helped everyone get on the same page with one central location to store and access student information.

“Everybody was trying to figure out where the data was, and it was all over the place,” Wagner explains. “We had it in nursing systems, in excel spreadsheets, in databases, everywhere.

Secretaries knew where it was, but nobody had all of the data in one place that was easily accessible for others.”

By bringing data into PowerSchool as the central database, the process helped remedy time-wasting inconsistencies between third-party systems, such as the library and food service systems.

“PowerSchool helped us flush out all of our inconsistencies and brought all of our data together. Once we started collecting all of the information and loading everything into PowerSchool, the more people started seeing the possibilities of data tracking and the ability to get people at the district office to pull accurate information,” Wagner says.

Real-Time Data

One of the district’s main objectives in partnering with PowerSchool was to improve real-time data access. “Our old SIS was module based and was not updated in real time,” Wagner says. “PowerSchool gave us the ability to bring our teachers, administrators and parents on an equal playing field to help promote student achievement and communication.

Because of web-based PowerSchool, Wagner says that school offices are able to track real-time, minute-to-minute attendance from any internet-connected device at any time.

Teachers do not have to deliver paper attendance to the office, and the system also gives Hatboro-Horsham School District the ability to connect other third-party vendors from one source with new plugins and API technology.

Improved Communication with Families and Student Accountability

Officials at Hatboro-Horsham School District know that parent involvement in their children’s education leads to student success. When parents are involved, students take more responsibility for their learning and accountability is heightened.

“We wanted that real-time experience for parents so they could look up their student, find out if they were in class that day, see their grades, and be able to get more involved in their student’s education,” says Wagner. “With PowerSchool, we have much better communication with families because the teachers have the ability to easily answer questions through the parent portal and parents have better access to get the information that they need through the portal and mobile app.”

PowerSchool has helped drive student growth within the district as “there is much more accountability,” according  to Wagner. “Students were thrilled to see real-time grading. They check it all the time and are much more aware of their assignments, grades and tests. They love it, especially the mobile app so they can see their grades right on their phones.”

Real-Time Gradebook

With an original goal of wanting a real-time gradebook to better communicate with students and parents, Hatboro-Horsham School District was selected to help beta test PowerTeacher Pro, the latest version of its industry-leading gradebook and classroom management tool.

A teacher participating in the testing states, “I think the biggest difference in PowerTeacher Pro is not in the content, but rather in the way you navigate through the program. In that regard, the new gradebook is a big improvement. You can easily move through different sections to add grades, check progress, print reports, or check student demographics.”

“Teachers can also save many hours because they no longer have to calculate their standards by hand. The gradebook does many of their calculations that took hours in the past,” says Denise Schlorff, Coordinator of Information Technology.

Schlorff says the beta teachers are also excited about the new statistical graphs embedded inside PowerTeacher Pro, which add analytic capabilities and even more valuable communication with parents. “With PowerTeacher Pro, teachers gain much better real-time statistics and analytics to improve student success. It also enabled the teacher to have better and more open communication with parents and students, and will make our lives easier with the capability of grouping students across sections within the gradebook.”

Hatboro-Horsham School District staff says it looks forward to introducing PowerTeacher Pro to its entire teaching body in fall.

Customizations

While some student information systems limit users to pre-loaded functionality with little flexibility, PowerSchool’s SIS excels in allowing districts to easily tailor the system to its unique needs. PowerSchool offers easy, limitless tailoring options, and schools across Pennsylvania are customizing the different portals, adding endless tables and fields, and creating page and database scripts to process information in an automated fashion.

“We love the fact that PowerSchool is so customizable. It makes it easy to address needs from departments by providing the capability to add fields and alter web pages to collect data. PowerSchool also gives us the tools to do easy data mining. We can go in and alter the pages, and actually create tie-ins with other systems to push data back and forth between those systems and get everybody up on the same page. That’s been a big benefit for us,” says Wagner.

State Reporting

Hatboro-Horsham School District has come to depend on PowerSchool for accurate, timely reporting with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education (PDE) with more than 100 supported reports and submissions, including easy-to-use Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) reporting.

“With the ever changing Pennsylvania state reporting requirements, Hatboro- Horsham depends on the PowerSchool reporting team to keep abreast of the state changes to allow our district a place to collect state reporting data easily and accurately in a timely fashion. With a dedicated compliance team assigned to our state, our Business Analyst is able

to get feedback from a customer focus group. This allows PowerSchool to deliver up-to-date changes as needed to meet the state’s reporting needs,” Wagner says.

The district also works with PowerSchool’s in-state, expert compliance team, which constantly monitors new state requirements and district requests.

PowerSchool engages with the PDE to quickly identify and communicate upcoming reporting changes and updates. According to Wagner, “One major strength that we love is the fact that PowerSchool is listening to its end users. As a member of the customer advisory board and beta groups, I find it beneficial that we have the ability to talk to PowerSchool representatives to voice our opinions.”

Integration

In today’s modern education landscape, Hatboro-Horsham utilizes many different specialized software systems – including Performance Tracker, Naviance, and Canvas – in collaboration with PowerSchool to manage a school’s entire operations. The district is impressed with PowerSchool’s advanced abilities to seamlessly integrate with these third-party software systems with single sign-on capabilities and seamless real-time data exchange.

“PowerSchool became that one place for us where data could live in and feed those other tools,” says Wagner.

“PowerSchool has made it easy to interact with our third-party software using Auto Comm/Auto Send’s, plugins, and API capability. A major benefit we experience is we no longer need to remember usernames and passwords to multiple systems.”

Conclusion

What began as Hatboro-Horsham School District’s decision to leave a stagnant SIS in search of one that offered real-time student data and a parent portal has grown into a comprehensive, district-wide solution. PowerSchool has helped improve business practices, enhance parent engagement, drive student growth and much more. And the partnership between PowerSchool and the district continues to advance and better serve administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Wagner says, “After working with PowerSchool for approximately 15 years, we continue to be excited about the upcoming enhancements that PowerSchool is providing. The product continues to evolve to better meet our specific needs.”

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