Switching student information systems can be a daunting task, and just the thought may elicit anxiety throughout district offices. And when change is inevitable—when your SIS is being phased out or is not keeping up with modern demands—starting something new can be sudden and disruptive to school processes and operations.
In 2008, Rhea County School District’s existing SIS system was an “end-of-life” product and the district had to choose a new system. The district chose PowerSchool Student Information System (SIS), and soon discovered that its previous system that it had become accustomed to wasn’t keeping up with state reporting demands and wasn’t customizable to the district’s specific needs. A switch to PowerSchool was just the change it needed.
“I absolutely recommend PowerSchool,” says Tim Jones, Rhea County School District System Software and Media Specialist. “PowerSchool has the easiest learning curve of any SIS package I’ve used because of the ability to have easy access to the backend of the database in a way you can’t mess up. You can ask any questions you want to, and you can customize it to do whatever you want it to do.”
Set in rural Tennessee, Rhea County School District serves 4,500 students across seven schools in the K-12 education space. The district had been using its previous SIS for eight years before making the PowerSchool switch. Jones handled all internal training and says PowerSchool was much easier to learn than the old system. “There were a lot of frustrations with usability with the old system, and many of our users had that system stuck on the brain. PowerSchool was so completely different that it actually took a little while for our team to realize we were now using a much more advanced, intuitive system. Once they got it, they really got it and it’s been a wonderful system to use for managing and using student data,” Jones says.
Rhea County users appreciate that the PowerSchool SIS isn’t limited to pre-loaded functionality, limited flexibility, or customizations that cost extra to implement. “Our PowerSchool users benefit from a lot of the customizations,” Jones says. “With the old system, you had what you had, and that was it. We couldn’t customize or write our own reports.” As a smaller school district, Rhea County School District has needs that are different than larger or urban districts. PowerSchool is built to be completely scalable for any size district and users can tailor the SIS with endless custom pages, reports and more. Customizing the SIS makes life easier for users by increasing their access to information in more organized and efficient ways, allowing them to focus their time on instruction or engaging students. “When I first started using PowerSchool, I knew it had customizations. But we didn’t do any customizations at the beginning because I had no clue how difficult it would be. I didn’t want to mess anything up,” Jones explains. “But it’s really simple to do customizations, and now we have far greater numbers of reports than we ever could have imagined previously. Had I known then what I know now, we’d have done customizations on day one.”
Rhea County Public Schools has created a customized discipline login screen with special alerts that helps ensure the district does not incorrectly suspend special education students. “What I love about PowerSchool is that I could never have done these important customizations with our previous system. And with plugins, I can put in other people’s customizations from PowerSource (PowerSchool’s user site). I don’t know that there’s anything we can’t do in PowerSchool if we put our minds to it,” Jones says.
Rhea County School District is also using customizations to help ensure timely, accurate state funding through its compliance reporting functionality. PowerSchool is fully compliant with Tennessee reporting requirements with more than 60 supported reports and submissions, offering Tennessee school districts the largest, most experienced compliance team. As it does in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces, PowerSchool’s State Reporting Compliance Team meets with the Tennessee Focus Group, a subset of Tennessee PowerSchool districts representatives, to help set the direction for upcoming development, including prioritizing enhancement requests, fixes, and upcoming changes to Tennessee state requirements. PowerSchool Tennessee Product Management meets regularly with the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE) to stay on top of upcoming state requirement changes. PowerSchool also holds training events that coincide with the state’s spring and fall Attendance Conferences.
“PowerSchool has been a great partner in state compliance reporting,” says Jones. “We use customizations to help ensure we accurately manage Tennessee state reporting. State reporting can be complicated with very specific types of reports they are needing, but with PowerSchool, I can customize our reports to calculate out a student’s time in class based on time in the bell schedule, and basically give a list of what their average daily membership is for each day that they’re enrolled. It’s extremely helpful to be able to customize, especially with frequent changes in state reporting requirements.”
When Rhea County made the PowerSchool SIS switch, it took advantage of valuable product training and user group collaboration to learn how to effectively maximize its use of the product. In addition to a dedicated technical support team available by both phone and chat, PowerSchool offers online, unlimited, self-paced training and expert-led webinars, the PowerSource user site, PowerSchool University training, and participates in PowerSchool user groups throughout the U.S. “I’ve never experienced a user group family as good as what is happening with PowerSchool,” Jones says. “We have both state and regional events with other PowerSchool users that has been extremely valuable to collaborate, share ideas, learn new functions, tips, and tricks. I’ve also attended PSU twice which has been a useful experience with PowerSchool experts and instructors who lead a variety of important sessions and are also available to take specific questions. Overall, it’s a dynamic company with passionate users who are always there to support each other.”
For Rhea County School District, switching to PowerSchool has been a successful change that has enhanced its ability to easily submit state reports for school funding. Customizations have opened up new possibilities of what the district can accomplish. “We use PowerSchool every day for countless student data needs. Since switching, our world of student data management and what we can do with that data has completely opened up, and we can’t imagine where we would be if we hadn’t made the change,” Jones says.
I’ve never experienced a user group family as good as what is happening with PowerSchool… Overall, it’s a dynamic company with passionate users who are always there to support each other.
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