A web-based solution was essential for the school system.

A web-based solution was essential for the school system.

New Visions is an outside organization contracted by the New York City School District to support schools instructionally.  Thus, it is contractually responsible for school performance on student achievement tests without direct legal supervisory authority over school staff.  As such, New Visions targets various instructional levers within each school. Through highly specialized departments focusing on different aspects of education, such as leadership and teacher development, data analysis, and operational re-engineering, New Visions attempts to build learning capacity through multiple tactics in a school.

New Visions for Public Schools is a nonprofit advocating for systematic reform of New York City public schools. As a partnership support organization (PSO) contracted by the New York City school district, New Visions provides instructional and operational support to a portfolio of 76 public schools, most of them high schools.

As a growing organization with an increasing number of support services offered, New Visions urgently needed a web-based solution to manage and track initiatives, capturing school and student-level data that would enable New Visions to iteratively modify both strategies and resource allocations across its 76 schools in real-time. Acumen Solutions helped New Visions to achieve this goal, using an innovative adaptation of Salesforce.com (a popular cloud computing customer relationship management application) to the educational environment and the New Visions operating model.

Previously, New Visions used a program-based approach to serve schools.  Various departments within New Visions would work with specific areas in a school.  Without an effective means of sharing information, action plans, and status reports between departments, it was difficult for those departments to collaborate and communicate effectively to determine the best approach for each school and to avoid duplicative and even conflicting efforts.  With individuals working in silos without strategic high level or granular, specific school level information sharing, New Visions’ management was not able to make informed programmatic, staffing, or budgetary decisions driven by data.  Decisions tended to be based on anecdotes and incomplete factual data. There was thus an urgent need for a means of managing and tracking initiatives, capturing school and student-level data, and sharing organizational best practices

To create this unconventional educational tracking system, the following key areas were addressed:
•    Transforming qualitative, subjective data to systematic, structured, quantitative data
•    Creating a defined common language across departments
•    Defining work flows even within the same department
•    Reducing and eliminating duplication of efforts and redundancies in services caused by lack of information sharing
•    Isolating fractured units throughout the organization without a coherent information and communication exchange
•    Creating performance metrics and program tracking to both evaluate school performance and organizational performance
•    Extremely limited reporting capabilities based on qualitative data; restricting ability to identify trends, key performance indicators, and positive outcomes

New Visions needed a technology solution that would involve a minimum of custom software development; would have operating costs that scaled with the size of the user base (rather than having a high fixed cost component); and would be supportable on modestly-powered PCs and laptops (in other words, would be web-based rather than thick-client based).  After some analysis, it was agreed that Salesforce.com represented the optimum choice.  Although the activities of New Visions are far removed from commercial sales and customer service, the enterprise data model and work processes of New Visions were found to map quite easily into the Salesforce.com model by renaming native roles and functions.

Acumen Solutions’ mission at New Visions was thus to successfully customize Salesforce.com to adapt it to New Visions’ activities, processes, data, and reporting requirements–starting with the definition of business and functional requirements, proceeding to configuration and implementation of a New Visions instance of Salesforce.com, and concluding with the training of users in effective platform usage.  With the correct configuring of Salesforce.com, New Visions would be able to have a 360-degree view of a school to assure that support services were best aligned to benefit the school.