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A school district that regularly graduates 100% of its students, with 98% continuing onto college, would seemingly have it all together. And while Valley Christian Schools boasted those staggering academic successes, it also struggled with an inefficient grading system, manual, time-consuming processes, inconsistent information for students, and parent frustration due to delayed and inconsistent reporting.
Valley Christian Schools partnered with the PowerSchool student information system (SIS) in 2003, which has given the district grading improvements that are giving teachers more time to spend on teaching and less time on administrative, labor-intensive tasks. With PowerSchool, the district has also lowered operational costs, developed students into stakeholders, improved parent engagement, and much more.
“PowerSchool is the core of most of our school information needs and is very important to us. It saves us time, gives us flexibility, and makes a positive impact on the communication between parents, students, and teachers as grade and attendance information is available immediately and continually,” says Roger Sprik, Valley Christian Schools’ Information Technology Director since 1998.
Founded in 1935, Valley Christian Schools enrolls approximately 1,300 students in preschool through 12th grade across four schools in Cerritos, California. The district is serious about student performance; in addition to its exemplary graduation and college enrollment rates, its students regularly out-perform other area private and public schools, even those with accelerated programs. Its average student SAT score exceeds the national average by 108 points and state average by 82 points.
One of the district’s top challenges had been an inefficient and time-consuming grading system, according to Sprik, who had previously served as a district Spanish teacher. He painstakingly explains the district’s former process for grading, which involved recording answers from Scantron bubble sheets. Most teachers manually processed scores with a calculator at the end of the term. “Once we calculated grades we had to transcribe with a No. 2 pencil on reams of Scantron sheets, which would then have to be scanned in by office staff, who printed out reams of verification sheets. I would then have to verify all of the grades off of a printout, make any corrections in a red pen, return that to the office, the office would have to scan my corrections and enter those manually, and then they would spend a day printing out the report cards on special form paper,” he says. “It was a very labor- and time-intensive, tedious process.”
Other challenges, according to Sprik, included inconsistencies with how frequently each teacher updated and reported grades, provided information to students, and communicated with parents.
“Principals were having way too many conversations with parents asking, ‘Why didn’t we know that our son or daughter was not doing so well?’ It would be weeks into the term, and the parents would just be finding out that their student was struggling.”
Now that the district uses PowerSchool and the PowerTeacher Pro Gradebook, teachers are taking advantage of easy access and entry of student data, including grading, assignments and attendance, and a 360-degree view of student performance. Teachers utilize the system’s anytime, anywhere access with full functionality on any device, intuitive, user-friendly interface, and quick-fill technology to save time while entering scores. “For us, the core of PowerSchool is the Gradebook. Teachers enter the grade one time and that’s it. There’s no copying that grade to any other system once that’s done,” Sprik says. “We are saving time and gaining flexibility in reporting GPAs, and realizing greater functionality on things like creating transcripts and scheduling.”
Valley Christian Schools uses both standards-based and traditional grading, depending on the school, and is able to customize PowerTeacher Pro settings for each scenario. “There’s a lot of freedom for the teacher to work out the way they want to do their grading,” Sprik explains. “Some teachers might want to do total points, and some might want to do weighted categories. PowerSchool gives teachers the freedom to allow them to choose their preferred grading practices.”
The district was founded on the concept of parental involvement and has been parent-run since first opening its doors. All families are required to serve 10 volunteer hours per year, which is managed within the PowerSchool SIS. PowerSchool also gives parents and students vital – and instant – access to student performance, grades, attendance, assignments and more. Sprik states: “We take seriously our obligation to be partners with parents in providing the best possible education for our students from preschool through high school graduation. PowerSchool is beneficial to parents, teachers, administrators, and to the students who can track their own progress. As soon as any information is added or changed, it’s available to students and parents. When teachers enter grades and attendance information for their class, that same data is immediately available.”
Before PowerSchool, the district’s elementary school was not on a student information system, the middle school was in a DOS version of its previous SIS, and the high school was on a windows version of the SIS. For the district to be integrated with adequate communication flow and accessibility, it would have required a separate server for each campus, and another server to add a parent access component. “Then along came PowerSchool with a requirement of just one server to do everything for the whole district,” Sprik says. “With the number of students we have, we’re still well within the performance metrics to run the entire school operation on one server. Talk about a low total cost of ownership – that was extremely important for us.”
Like most school districts, Valley Christian Schools uses a variety of specialized third-party software systems to manage day-to-day operations. With multiple systems, seamless integration is essential to make life easier and more productive for school administrators. “We start student user accounts in PowerSchool, and we integrate those into our active directory which then flows into all of our other systems,” Sprik says. “We use a system for managing our admissions process, that also includes a collection of forms, and that integrates with PowerSchool. We also wrote our own bookstore management software for the sale of textbooks that we integrate with PowerSchool.”
PowerSchool also integrates with the following Valley Christian Schools systems: mobile device management system as a 1:1 iPad district; Apple School Manager for teachers to have insight into use on iPads; G Suite for Education (formerly Google Apps for Education); Follett Library System; learning management system; messaging system, Naviance for college and career admissions; and a daycare tracking system. “The API (application program interface) that PowerSchool has developed to make all this possible just keeps getting more robust and we’re very excited about the future possibilities,” Sprik says.
The ability to easily tailor PowerSchool to meet unique district and school-level needs is a major advantage of PowerSchool over other student information systems. “We’ve been able to customize PowerSchool to extend the system to further meet our needs,” Sprik says. “This enhances our abilities in areas like offering a better way to report the graduation progress of our students, to make our process of tracking tardies and attendance more efficient, to verify grades instantly, and to really create some powerful reports for at-risk students and teacher grading performance and missing assignments for our staff who intervene with students.”
With customizations, Valley Christian Schools seeks to make life easier for its users by increasing their access to information in more organized and efficient ways to allow them to focus their time on engaging with students. “With increased demand for quality data to inform decision-making, it’s of paramount importance to have an information system that is responsive to the unique needs of our school,” says Sprik.
By partnering with the right educational software solution, Valley Christian Schools was able to match its operational efficiency to its model academic prowess. What was once a time-consuming, labor-intense challenge to complete fundamental tasks such as grading has now become easy, effective, and even gives teachers back valuable hours that can be spent directly on a child’s education. “We love PowerSchool and are thrilled with the capabilities it has afforded our district,” Sprik says. “What started as basic improvements to our grading process has blossomed into essential enhancements that affect our entire operation.”
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