An Open Source Application to Cut Your SIS Costs

from Educators' eZine

With technology pricing on the rise, districts are now searching for solutions that will comply with the standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Administrators are now looking for a Student Information System (SIS) that will provide them with the best possible solution to comply with NCLB and not "break the bank." Some of these districts cannot afford expensive technology upgrades, licensure, and support personnel due to the lack of funding in their annual budget. However, there may be a solution for all of their districts woes.

There has been a steady rise in the production of open source applications, some of which could greatly decrease the annual funding needed to implement a full technology plan. This solution can associate all of the district's needs into one package — from lesson plans and grading to operating systems and software needs. Some of these software packages allow parents to view their children's grades, attendance, discipline, and schedule by logging in through a secure client.

Software such as OpenOffice provides machines with the capability of editing and creating Microsoft or PDF documents. It comes with a load of features, some of which its for-fee competitors cannot even touch. The best part of this application is that it is open source, and offers everything that a district's faculty would need to successfully run the classroom.

Linux offers free operating systems such as Ubuntu, which offers the functionality of Linux with the look and feel of the popular Microsoft Windows Operating System, which would provide a smooth transition of use for the experienced Windows user.

Most of us understand the importance of a functional SIS as well as all of the support applications that are used throughout the course of a day to assist teachers, administrators, students, and parents with the learning process. An effective learning environment will need to include participation of each, and what better way then to have every one on the same page with a useful solution.

When you reach the end of your SIS life-cycle you immediately start weighing the pro's and con's associated with each type of vendor software. Programs such as PowerSchool, SchoolMaster, and SchoolInsight offer your district various information regarding your student population, district demographics, and functionality. Most of these will need to have an associated server(s) to properly run the program. This would ultimately cost the district the price of the licensure as well as the price of upgrading or replacing the current systems in order to comply with the software specifications.

However there is one company that is moving above and beyond the competition with their product, titled SchoolControl. The Logic House, Inc, a Pittsburgh based software development firm, created this product with one thing in mind. How can they develop an SIS that will comply with NCLB and assist every aspect of the district's functions? They created a solution that meets that goal.

To use the software all you need is access to the Internet. It is completely Web-based and thus accessible anywhere in the world. They also offer an onsite managed deployment, training, and support. The list of the program's functionality is continuously growing. Currently the software has the following functions:

  • Parent Portal, allowing real time access to their child's attendance, grades, and discipline records;
  • Teaching tools such as an interactive lesson planner, grade book, attendance guide, and disciplinary actions;
  • System administration which allows you to completely set up your school year, assign buildings, classrooms, staff members, and state reporting;
  • School Administration contains transcript information, grading reports, attendance, disciplinary actions, report cards, interim reports, and various other functions;
  • Scheduling which allows students to choose their classes online, and creates schedules based on the entered information;
  • Student Profile, includes all of the information you would ever want to know about a student;
  • Special Education puts all of your forms in electronic form (IEP, NORA) and produces state reporting;
  • Food Services, with touch screen capabilities;
  • Health Administration, including daily logs, medication, testing, and physicals;
  • Financial Management;
  • Bank Reconciliation;
  • Budget preparation;
  • Payroll;
  • Employee absence;
  • Substitute management;
  • Maintenance functionality including inventory, work order requests, and building assignments;
  • Transportation administration allows you to effectively establish busing routes and assign students to them;
  • Athletics administration allows your athletic director to enter rosters, check eligibility, and create schedules;
  • And much much more.

Their services are second to none, and the cost to have this fully integrated system is only a fraction of what your district is currently providing. As I have stated, it seems this list grows more and more every time that I look at it, to see any current information you can go to the Logic House Web site.

Since most schools also have the issue of limited space, how many servers can your district handle, or are you working with limited spacing? Typically when deciding on where to store your internal systems, you need to look into a few standard protocols:

  • Will the space be sufficient enough to house the current and any possible additions?
  • Will the room be easily accessible to run cabling as well as access to all angles of the server racks?
  • Does the area have proper air conditioning and ventilation?
  • Will the room be accessible only to those who have rights to work on the systems?

After justifying that your current technology center has met the above criteria you will need to consider power requirements, climate, server configuration, cable management, and the physical security of the data center.

Ideally the room should have the ability to produce 45 to 60 watts per square foot of power, have available uninterruptible power supplies and backup generators. Due to the overabundance of heat created by constantly running machines you will need to create a stable environment. Servers are fragile and will not function at full capacity when there are areas with extreme heat or fluctuating humidity.

When you are adding server racks you will need to consider any air flow restrictions, overloaded racks due to weight, power requirements, and cabling. The standards that you put in place will ensure that any upgraded equipment or added equipment is configured in the same way.

Cable management is an art. Determining what to do with them is a science. The network cabling should be ran away from any power cables. This will cut down the chance of electromagnetic fields hindering the speeds of cable communication. Color coding or labeling the cables will greatly cut down on troubleshooting time, and will allow the system administrator to quickly find which cable is giving an issue and where.

Just like any data warehouse, there is going to be classified or confidential information being passed through it on a daily basis. Protecting this information should come first. Besides setting up group policies, developing an Intrusion Detection System (IDS), and configuring your firewall, you need to control physical access to this room. The computer center should only be available to those that need access to it. This could be done using various methods such as smartcards, biometrics, or keys. A security camera should be placed at the entrance to the room in case of a physical break-in.

Using this information, you can create an effective and cost efficient solution to your districts technology budget. The reason that SchoolControl was included in this is because they offer all of these services. So if you are in need of a integrated solution, or would just like to look over all of your available options, I would not count them out.

Email:Joseph Roadman