5 Strategies for Changing Small School Management Systems

June 5, 2019

The rapid rise of various school and education management technology offerings has led many K–12 schools into a wall of issues trying to connect disjointed systems. Multiple logins, complicated interfaces, disconnected databases, and out-of-sync information are a few of the reasons that The Girls Preparatory School (GPS) switched to Blackbaud’s education management solutions.

In a webinar outlining the school’s transition, Director of IT Daniel Millbank and Data Operations Manager Melanie Northcutt discuss why GPS needed an integrated solution, and they highlight the following five strategies to successfully implement a new cloud software system.

1. Know what your school actually needs.

There are two approaches to creating a school management system: best of breed and integrated. A best-of-breed system looks to utilize the most elaborate solution available for each office or discipline. While this approach offers each department more functionality, it can also lead to inconsistent data across the various school offices, higher operational costs, and multiple credential verifications.

It’s important for your school to fully understand the challenges it is trying to solve with a new system. Is a system comprised of independent best-of-breed solutions actually better when you weigh the pros versus the cons? Will your school fully utilize the additional features that contribute to the increased cost of best-of-breed solutions?

GPS reviewed these scenarios and decided that the school was best served by an integrated system from Blackbaud that prioritized information availability and data flow throughout the various solutions and the school’s offices with lower operational costs.

2. Prioritize and organize for discovery.

For many schools, the discovery process for evaluating school management software systems can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. It can be a daunting process that leaves schools unsure of where to start. To keep from being overwhelmed, Millbank and Northcut recommend prioritizing the following:

  • Create a request for proposal
  • Thoroughly document the desired functionality that each office requires
  • Have a collaborative vendor vetting process
  • Avoid using cost as part of the initial criteria (this is hard to do, but it can keep you from prematurely disqualifying a solution that may be the best fit)
  • Establish a committee to guide the transition process
  • Research and conduct prep work
  • Plan an implementation schedule that factors available resources and seasonality (it doesn’t have to be all at once)

3. Manage resistance.

With any change or transition, there will always be resistance. This is natural and you should respond with sympathy and optimism. It’s important to show that the decision is data-driven, unbiased, and connected to the school’s mission. To help ease skepticism, emphasize and demonstrate how the new tools will help each office become more efficient and organized.

4. Have an implementation project manager.

Choose a dedicated person to oversee the implementation to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. This person will work closely with the vendor to develop the implementation schedule and organize feedback. Internally, assign tasks and due dates to appropriate team members, and thoroughly document status updates. Communication is key—make sure that the school’s constituents understand what to expect and when, including the training plan.

5. Measure success.

Implementation is not the end—on the contrary, it’s the beginning, and it’s important to monitor how your school’s constituents are responding to the change. Has usage increased? Is more data being collected, and is it more accurate? Are the various offices becoming more efficient? What feedback are you getting from staff, students, and parents? Answering these questions will help measure and report on success, but they will also help pinpoint where people might need more guidance and encouragement.

Watch the webinar to learn more about these strategies to successfully transition your school’s technology.

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