Public school district in east Texas that serves more than 65,000 students in almost 60 schools and employs more than 4,000 teachers and almost 3,700 professional support personnel, administrators, and staff. Rated as Recognized by the Texas Education Agency, Katy ISD offers an outstanding instructional program. Its mission is to partner with families and the community to provide “unparalleled learning experiences designed to prepare and inspire each student to live an honorable, fulfilling life.”
Using a proven process, Katy Independent School District (ISD) successfully selected and implemented a software system for managing student data and supporting student achievement.
According to Kerry Rampelli, Katy ISD’s director of enterprise applications, a primary aim of the effort was to replace disparate software systems for student information management, gradebook, and parent portal with a single integrated solution to allow information to be more easily accessed, shared, and analyzed. “Previously nothing was real-time,” says Rampelli. “One of our goals was to have a one-stop shop through which we are better able to quickly access information about student achievement.” The school district selected eSchoolPLUS, PowerSchool’s student information system.
The project’s leadership followed an established process for selecting and implementing the system. The effort employed a series of best practices that ensured: (1) the software best met the needs of district educators and staff, (2) the software was rolled out efficiently with significant stakeholder support, and (3) a mechanism for feedback and continuous improvement was established to allow the district to tap into insights as personnel gained experience with the system. Reflecting on the smooth transition, Rampelli believes the project has been a success. “We’ve made it a mature product in one year and, to me, that’s a very successful implementation,” she says. “We met all of our deadlines and our commitments to our community and our parents.”
During the year-long effort, Katy ISD’s project team employed the following best practices:
• Marshal executive leadership backing
• Establish a cross-functional team
• Provide comprehensive user training and support
• Seek opportunities for phased rollout
• Establish a process for continuous improvement
To choose an integrated solution for managing student data and supporting student achievement and then efficiently transition from the district’s legacy software products to the new system.
Execute a well-managed, collaborative process that proactively anticipates user needs.
Essential to the success of this project was the creation of an executive team to champion the effort from selection through implementation. Facilitated by the project manager, the executive team was comprised of key leadership of all affected areas of school operation, including the chief information officer, chief academic officer, chief operations officer, legal governance, and assistant area superintendents overseeing the campuses. The executive team met weekly at the project’s launch and less frequently after the project’s functional team was formed to manage logistics of selection and implementation.
In addition to providing project direction, the executive team sent a strong signal of senior leadership backing for the project and the functional team’s decision-making. “I cannot stress enough how important executive support is,” says Rampelli. “It makes a difference—just to have the decision-makers for your district showing their support and thanking your team for their efforts.”
To lead the selection and implementation processes, Katy ISD established a functional team of key stakeholders from across the district. “We pulled together a really good group of power users from the campuses— all those people who really make an impact at all levels of the organization,” explains Rampelli, who led the team. The breadth of the functional team assured that the selection and implementation processes reflected input from and anticipated the needs of users across the district.
During the selection process, the functional team developed a list of system requirements for the request for proposals (RFP) that reflected the needs and desires of the entire district. They then evaluated RFP responses and selected three finalists.
“We brought in the vendors to each do a two-day demo,” explains Rampelli. “Each vendor was given a script, indicating what items we wanted to see. All members of the functional team sat in on all demos and graded the products based on the criteria we developed.” The team selected eSchoolPLUS, the solution they believed best met the criteria.
During implementation, team members were assigned full time to the effort and moved to a project space. With the support of a full-time developer from the district and a full-time project manager from PowerSchool, they performed all system set-up and configuration. “Throughout our implementation, the functional team met every day,” Rampelli says. “Together, we trudged through definite timelines.” With their varied perspectives and expertise, the functional team members ensured the solution was well-integrated across the district.
The functional team developed multi-faceted training and support materials to familiarize faculty and staff with eSchoolPLUS and Teacher Access Center (TAC), the system’s teacher portal and gradebook.
Throughout the summer prior to go-live, eSchoolPLUS was previewed for district faculty. Twice weekly, a trainer led a 30- to 60-minute Adobe Connect session to provide participants with a glimpse of the software’s functionality. Approximately one- third of the faculty attended one of the voluntary sessions.
During the teacher inservice week, one day was set aside at each campus to familiarize teachers with eSchoolPLUS. In the morning, the trainer conducted a formal training session, walking faculty through the software. During the session, teachers were provided with a printed resource detailing key functionality, such as how to access class rosters, take attendance, manage assignments, submit grades, etc. In the afternoon, the trainer was available in a campus computer lab to provide one-on- one assistance to teachers who needed more instruction. The afternoon sessions were fluid; teachers could come and go as they desired.
Since implementation, teachers have been supported by TAC coordinators, who are subject matter experts tasked with answering questions and seeking resolution of system issues. At least two TAC coordinators, with one being a teacher, were identified by the principals for each campus. In addition, these individuals serve as liaisons between district IT staff and the campus—proactively notifying users of important deadlines and actions they need to take in advance of those deadlines.
As an additional resource, Captivate was used to create two- to three-minute videos that provide step-by-step instructions for performing tasks in eSchoolPLUS. The videos are made available through the district’s video portal.
The district’s summer school program offered an opportunity to pilot eSchoolPLUS and Teacher Access Center at five of the district’s 58 campuses. “We had a soft go-live of June 1 when summer school was about to start,” says Rampelli.
During the pilot, the functional team tested product functionality in actual school situations to evaluate whether the system was configured correctly. Throughout the summer, the team received input and suggestions from summer school teachers and staff. In addition, the functional team tested training materials and resources developed for the rollout process. “It really gave us the ability to tweak our materials,” says Rampelli.
Katy ISD plans to establish a steering committee to provide feedback to the Information Technology team.
Through the committee, the district will tap into insights gained as personnel grow in their experience with and knowledge of the new student information system. The information is expected to allow the district to identify additional opportunities for leveraging the system to positively affect student achievement and enhance district operations.
We’ve made it a mature product in one year and, to me, that’s a very successful implementation. We met all of our deadlines and our commitments to our community and our parents.
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