Every fall, students in Rose Tree Media (RTM) School District arrive to begin another school year. Along with his or her brand new backpack, each student brings different skills, different aptitudes, and different interests. But, according to RTM Superintendent James M. Wigo Sr., the goal for each is the same: growth.
“Every year, our goal is a year’s growth, at the very least, for every one of our students,” explains Wigo. “So when we’re working with a child who is already proficient, we pay the same amount of attention to that student as we do to the student who is having hard time reaching the bar.”
Wigo says data is key to the district’s success. “Our proficient numbers are wonderful. In some cases, we have 90 to 95 percent of our students in a particular grade level proficient in math and reading,” he says. “The challenge comes in dealing with the highest and the lowest quartile. What do we do with those students who are struggling to the point of being below basic? And, what do we do with those students in the middle of the advanced quartile who are not growing? Data is really the only tool we have to help make those decisions and drive instruction.”
In considering software that would support student achievement and operational excellence, the school district saw the value of a complete, integrated solution for its administrative software needs. The district selected SunGard K-12 Education’s PLUS 360 suite.
A single integrated software solution for the management of student information, assessment and curriculum, special education, and financial and human resources, PLUS 360 provides district staff anytime, anywhere access to important district information. The solutions can be deployed to work together to help meet educational goals and requirements or implemented as stand-alone systems.
For Mack Johnson, the district’s management systems administrator, RTM has benefited from choosing a single vendor solution. “The SunGard K-12 Education products are a powerfully interactive system that keeps track of everything—our finances, students, and personnel—all in a one-stop shop,” says Johnson. “The software keeps everyone more informed and gives us the tools to make better decisions.”
Integrated Data Guides Strategic and Tactical Initiatives
According to Wigo, RTM has high aspirations and works diligently to support each student to achieve at the highest level.
“All school districts have the goal of supporting student achievement,” he says. “The struggle is how do you record, track, and retrieve data on a regular basis so that you can immediately address issues that would be contrary to that goal. Without qualification, the SunGard K-12 Education products serve an unbelievably important purpose by helping us accomplish those tasks.”
To manage its student information, RTM relies on eSchoolPLUS, a recognized industry-leading software system that helps educators coordinate day-to-day student administration, monitor student performance, and facilitate communications between district staff, parents, and students. The district manages its longitudinal assessment data with PerformancePLUS, which allows teachers and administrators to aggregate and disaggregate data and use it to establish and monitor goals, modify curriculum, and ultimately enhance the teaching and learning environment. And, RTM uses IEPPLUS to manage the special education process.
For Patti Linden, RTM’s director of technology, the seamless integration between SunGard K-12’s suite of student products is key to meeting student needs.
“eSchoolPLUS, IEPPLUS, and PerformancePLUS have helped us rely on that important data that we use to track student progress. Without very easy access to that data, it’s difficult to be able to pinpoint student needs,” explains Linden. “So, this one-stop shop for all our student data has made that process very simple. And, the integration of all those products helps us meet student needs with more accuracy.”
According to Linden, RTM principals hold data conferences three times a year to review individual student progress. “Having the data all in one place in PerformancePLUS really allows us to zone in on those students who are at risk,” she explains. “By looking at the data, we know where the students started, we see how much progress they’ve made, and we know if they are on target to progress to our expected level. For those at risk, we then decide on individual remediation during the data conference.”
Wigo says the SunGard K-12 student products not only support these strategic reviews, but also the everyday, on-the-spot analysis that needs to occur for success in the classroom. “Quite frankly, everyone has their feet to the fire relative to performance,” he says. “Every day, our teachers and administrators need to identify, react, and reassess. The software allows us to do that in very rapid and very accurate succession.”
For the individual student, this rapid response can make all the difference. “We don’t have the luxury of strategic responses when we see evidence of a child struggling,” says Wigo. “Our response has to happen almost immediately, and we get that kind of immediate response from the software.”
According to Johnson, PerformancePLUS puts this key data in their educators’ hands. “With PerformancePLUS, our teachers can look back multiple years to see a student’s growth,” he says. “No longer is this longitudinal performance data in a cumulative folder in the office. It’s now at their fingertips. They can bring it up—all the scores, exactly as they happened. Real-time.”
Supporting Special Education Compliance
For special education, RTM uses IEPPLUS to efficiently manage the entire process—from referral, evaluation, and IEP development to maintaining historical information and ensuring compliance with IDEA regulations.
Linden says the software supports a collaborative process for IEP development. “Our IEP meetings now take place in a conference room,” she explains. “The IEP is projected onto a screen or a white board, so that everyone can see it and it can be edited on the spot while that IEP meeting is taking place.”
Thanks to IEPPLUS, Wigo says the IEP is available much more quickly to all who need it. “Our supervisors for special education can view an IEP at the central office that was developed four miles away at an elementary school. No longer do we have to wait for the printed version to come over,” he explains. “After the document is signed and stamped, every teacher who has access to that student can view the document at any time.”
The software also supports compliance through automated notifications to alert district staff of critical information or actions needed. “Our special education department is diligent about making sure we stay on workflow and on a timeline. It’s essential,” says Wigo. “IEPPLUS helps us stay on top of the special education process. And, the connection between IEPPLUS and eSchoolPLUS is key because clean data is really a huge part of reducing errors.”
Johnson appreciates the built-in features that support compliance and reporting.
“We have turned on 50 or 60 of the error checks in IEPPLUS to prevent teachers from being able to print an IEP if the data is not correct. These built-in features have been tremendous in terms of keeping us compliant,” he says, noting that he appreciates the software’s regulatory reporting support. “We are one of the best districts in Delaware County in terms of our 12/1 count. We are always on time and always have clean data, and I think it has a lot to do with IEPPLUS.”
Powerful Software Creates Confidence, Increases Efficiency
Today, Johnson says teachers and administrators at RTM feels confident in their data. “Having that integration is very important because it makes our data very stable,” he explains. “It’s good to have that single point of entry. Changes to a student’s record can be seen instantly across all pieces of software by all teachers and staff members.”
With PLUS 360, district personnel have launched initiatives to innovate their operations. “For example, we no longer print report cards at the secondary level. Everything is done through Home Access Center, the eSchoolPLUS parent portal,” says Johnson. “After logging in, parents can easily access their student’s test scores and grades.”
The district’s business and human resource organizations also benefit from the PLUS 360 advantage with eFinancePLUS.
“eFinancePLUS is just a good fit for us. It does all the things we need it to do—budgeting, personnel budgeting, assets, fund accounting, purchasing, and human resources,” says Johnson, noting that the district relies on the automated workflows and notifications to increase the efficiency of its operations. “Approvers get emails notifying them when something requires their review—a leave request, timesheet, requisition, etc. Thanks to eFinancePLUS, we now have our turnaround time for purchase orders down to almost 48 hours because we do it all electronically.”
Johnson also has accolades for SunGard K-12 regulatory teams, who aid the district in staying on top of ever-changing state reporting requirements. “SunGard K-12’s flagship is its state teams. Every week, there’s something new the state wants from us. And, within a short time, SunGard K-12’s teams make that happen. How? Sometimes I don’t even know. And, I don’t even question,” says Johnson. “I’m a big fan of SunGard K-12’s customer support.”
Wigo echoes Johnson’s praise. “We have confidence that SunGard K-12 Education will stay parallel with us in terms of recognizing what we need,” he says. “We’re getting responses before we can really make a request. That’s really at the vanguard of service. We’re very, very satisfied.”