When an accounting clerk enters information for a new student, the data flow automatically to the food services and library systems. Active Directory automatically creates the student’s account, with a login and password. “In the past, I can’t even say how many steps that would have taken,” Bair says.
The district’s health system isn’t automated with SIF yet, because its software is still in the process of becoming SIF certified.
The Northern Lebanon School District has spent about $13,000 so far on its SIF implementation and estimates that it has saved more than $47,500.
Staff members have gained time that now can be focused on other responsibilities. For example, the network administrator, instead of generating and updating network accounts, can use that time to address network responsibilities more quickly. Manual processes for extracting, uploading, updating, and modifying data have been replaced with secure, standards-based automation. And data in all systems are cleaner as a result of SIF.
Bair advises that districts learn as much as they can about SIF up front if they are considering an implementation. When purchasing new applications, even if a SIF implementation isn’t immediately in the cards, Bair suggests those applications be SIF certified nonetheless. “I thought of getting involved with SIF way back in the beginning, but because of inadequate time, I couldn’t do it,” she explains. “But I made sure as we purchased systems that they would be SIF certified.” That, she says, has made the implementation much more cost-effective and has allowed the district to move more quickly.
The Pasadena Independent School District in Texas also made sure that every new application it bought in recent years was SIF certified. The large district–it has 52,000 students–depended on a mainframe system developed in-house, but the administration wanted to transition to a more modern system. Staff agreed that no single system could fulfill all the needs of teachers, staff, and administrators.
Pasadena decided to deploy various software solutions from multiple vendors. “We chose the best-of-breed in each area based on our requirements, then figured out how to integrate them afterward,” says Bob Daughrity, chief technology officer for the district.
The district now uses Chancery SMS as its student information system and Lawson Business Solutions for financials, payroll, and human resources. Every application that included a SIF Agent is now being used in the district’s SIF implementation. For those vendors whose applications did not include a SIF Agent–such as GradeSpeed, its teacher grade book, and NUTRIKIDS, its food service management tool–the district is working with them to develop a SIF Agent.
After bringing a number of these applications in, and getting them up and running, Pasadena knew it would be a bigger challenge to run them all than it could handle on its own. “We began to look at implementing SIF sooner rather than later,” Daughrity says. In 2007, the district chose SIF implementation partner Mizuni to install the Zone Integration Server (about $5,000) and to install its Chancery SMS Agent.
Pasadena considers itself a data-driven district. The data it collects are used to improve instruction and boost student achievement. “Data reliability and integrity, and being able to report and utilize that data for analysis purposes, are very important to us,” says Daughrity. “Now we can gather data across multiple systems very quickly and use those data in applying for and receiving stimulus funding.”
Daughrity cautions that it’s important to pick the right partners when implementing SIF. “You have to select a partner that understands your district’s business requirements and understands K-12 related applications very well,” he says. “We talk to other schools that are a year into their implementation and they’re still not done. It shouldn’t take that long.”
School districts reap multiple rewards from implementing SIF, and the technology-related benefits–such as streamlining reporting and improving data quality–are the least of them, says the SIF Association’s Fruth. “The bulk of what SIF does is impact school decision making,” he explains. “The ability to pull data from various sources is critical.”
Daughrity agrees that SIF has enhanced decision making at all levels. “We utilize data and … trend analysis in all the decisions we make, and with a SIF interface in place, we can collect those data and make decisions quickly,” he says. For example, to assess where students are in the learning process, and to make decisions regarding their education, teachers and administrators want easy access to information such as attendance, behavior patterns, and assessment data. A data warehouse that is updated continuously throughout the day gives multiple analysis points to help educators make those decisions on a real-time basis.
Having data at their fingertips helps teachers do their jobs better, says Fruth, and that’s the ultimate goal of any teacher.
“There will be some hiccups,” Bair warns. “There’s a significant amount of work to do, but I absolutely recommend that school districts invest in SIF.”