A superintendent shares his journey to an updated student information system.
GUEST COLUMN | by Daniel Fishbein
Six years ago in Ridgewood, New Jersey, we learned that our current student information system (SIS) was going off the market and would no longer be maintained by the vendor. At that time, the search for a new SIS was one of my first responsibilities as the new superintendent of Ridgewood Public Schools.
With a reputation for excellent teachers and high performing students, Ridgewood is the largest school system in Bergen County, New Jersey, serving more than 5,900 students in 10 schools – six elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school and one Pre-Kindergarten special needs school.
The SIS has transformed how we communicate with families and students about student progress. But those words just scratch the surface.
Improve Communication and Learning Analytics
Because Ridgewood’s existing system was not web-based, communication between teachers and parents was done the old fashioned way – over the phone, through email, letters or face-to-face. Today’s parents want to be more involved; they desire on-demand visibility into their student’s academic development and the ability to cultivate stronger relationships with teachers.
The system used to manage student-related information also lacked data mining capabilities and was difficult to use, making it almost impossible for end users to generate their own reports. Simple things like SAT scores and grade point averages, or a student’s progression in a specific program from elementary school to middle school could not be correlated.
We were really looking to achieve greater visibility in order to pinpoint what was working, where there were areas that needed improvement, and what we could do to better service our students.
Choosing a New Student Information System
After convening a search committee of administrators, guidance personnel, parents, teachers and IT specialists, and appointing the IT manager as its chairperson, I charged the stakeholders with the evaluation and recommendation of a new SIS for the district. The system had to meet several criteria including a parent portal, regular SIS components for all students, the ability to facilitate parent communications regarding Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for our special education pupils, and the capability of handling New Jersey State reporting requirements. It was also important that our new SIS vendor be reputable and is positioned to grow and expand the system in sync with the ongoing changes in education.
The committee initially suggested five SIS products, but the one we ultimately chose was not brought to the table. At my former district, I had successfully implemented Skyward, Inc. and therefore my final charge to the group was to add it to the list. Following an exhaustive investigation of the six systems including site visits, demonstrations and colleague recommendations, the committee defended the group consensus to me: my recommended addition was at the top of the list and the committee’s recommended first choice.
Transformation of Teaching and Learning
Our district is continually recognized at a state and national level for school and individual achievements, and we are focused on delivering a high-quality education focused on maximizing the potential of every learner.
Today I can say that the SIS has transformed how we communicate with families and students about student progress. But those words just scratch the surface. Students use the mobile app to check on their progress; parents can update vital information through the porthole; teachers can communicate assignment details; and we can easily get news out to our entire learning community of parents, students and staff.
The system also puts some degree of responsibility on students to be an active participate in their own education. In addition to managing things like course selection, our older students have access to their academics so they can see where they stand and what they can do to improve their own performance. From initial classroom assignments to final grades, the system has greatly improved the quality of our school communications by providing single-entry access to relevant information and performance indicators. This system has truly moved the Ridgewood Public Schools forward in the area of SIS.
We feel that our SIS surpasses districts’ needs in state reporting, improves operational capabilities, and opens communication between schools and families. Today, it is used in more than 1,700 school districts worldwide, ranging from districts with as few as 50 students to statewide implementations supporting more than 800,000 students — including ours.
Daniel Fishbein, Ed.D., superintendent of Ridgewood Public Schools for the past six years, was superintendent in Glen Ridge, New Jersey for eight years prior to Ridgewood. Write to: [email protected] or visit: www.ridgewood.k12.nj.us