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Learn how this district had a paperless first day and eliminated hours of employee work.

My district’s “Paperless First Day” challenge

Learn how this district's Paperless First Day eliminated hours of work and streamlined attendance processes

In my district, Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, more than 33,000 students have their attendance taken across 40 locations during the school day. While we took attendance online for years, we still relied on paper processes for identifying and submitting student “no-show” lists, which often took our staff a week to sort through.

Our district is the sixth fastest-growing district in Texas, adding almost 1,500 students every year. With such rapid expansion, we knew the amount of time it would take to tally “no-shows” could only get worse. It was time for a more efficient strategy.

Related content: An app for the paperless classroom

After extensive planning and help from our technology, we held our district’s first-ever “Paperless First Day” for attendance and “no-show” students. Following are a few notes on our district’s journey, along with tips, tricks, and benefits I learned about changing our district to a more paperless environment.

Paperless First Day challenge accepted

Our “Paperless First Day” initiative started when a project manager from our student information system, Skyward, heard about our struggles documenting students who didn’t show up to class. He presented us with a challenge that would change our district for the better: take all attendance online starting on the first day of school.

I worked with our PEIMS coordinator to research the merits behind the idea. We knew if we followed through with the plan, it would present a culture shift for our district’s staff. Our district was accustomed to printing out rosters, handing them to teachers, marking a student’s attendance status, and giving a huge stack of paper to our attendance clerk, who would then sort through and tally “no-show” numbers. It didn’t take us long to realize our SIS could do all the work for us and save our staff significant time each week. We committed and soon began our journey towards a “Paperless First Day.”

The power of video

After setting our goal to go paperless, we needed an effective way to train every employee on the attendance tools within our SIS. We decided the best way to ensure a smooth rollout was video training.

By using video to demonstrate step-by-step instructions for entering “no-shows” into our SIS, we cut down on the three-hour training sessions we would have conducted in future years. As an added benefit, employees could search and pull up the video anytime they needed refreshers in the future.

We initially created eight minutes of video, which provided an overview of our SIS. Afterward, we sent a separate video that showed teachers how to take attendance in 90 seconds. In total, teachers had all the tools and references they needed to achieve our goal of a paperless first day in under 10 minutes before the school year began. Due to its success, we continue to publish tutorial videos for our staff, ranging anywhere from navigating our gradebook to creating accurate progress reports.

The day of

Once we felt comfortable that everyone had a strong understanding of our digital methods for entering attendance and “no-show” lists, we waited patiently until the first day of school arrived.

The results were everything we had hoped for and more. Within the first day, we drastically cut down on the time it once took us to complete our “no-show” lists. In the past, processing a day’s worth of “no-show” lists from 200 teachers at our high school would take upwards of a week. During our “Paperless First Day,” we were done by noon thanks to the tools and the buy-in from our teachers. The real-time information also gave us a better idea of where students were throughout the day, helping us identify whether they were hanging out in the cafeteria or visiting the nurse’s office. This is a game-changer for accountability, student safety, and school security.

Lessons learned

After experiencing the successes of a “Paperless First Day,” we have encouraged neighboring districts to participate with us. Each time the idea is met with excitement, but also questions about where to start. It would be easy to challenge our neighbors to follow our lead—creating videos and using their SIS—but I believe strategy must be built with existing culture in mind.

My first tip is to be curious. We work in education, and the industry is constantly changing and pushing us to learn more. Ask yourself if things are being done in the best way in your district. If they aren’t, search for alternatives and push your district to grow.

Finally, be confident in new ideas that could improve your district. Our “Paperless First Day” and video training involved a lot of discussion, hesitation, and debate. If nobody had gone to bat for those ideas, we would have continued allocating hundreds of work hours each year to student “no-show” lists and technology training. Change can come from anywhere in your district, and as Lamar ISD has found out, it can completely transform your upcoming school year for the better.

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