VA district adopts time- and money-saving online registration

Looking back on the experience, Falls Church (VA) City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin today finds it hard to believe that Online Registration and related solutions from infosnap have made thousands of dollars for her school district. Parents completing an online form developed by infosnap have helped more than triple the amount of funds donated to Falls Church schools by a regional grocery chain in just two years.

When the move to infosnap was first contemplated, however, it was Dr. Berlin’s desire to simply address the concerns of two Falls Church mothers that largely drove her decision. It was 2004, during Dr. Berlin’s first year as superintendent, that she received the two women, who had a very reasonable request.

“They came to ask why they had to complete the same forms for each of their kids at the beginning of every school year, year after year, often with the same information,” said Dr. Berlin. “They were understandably annoyed at having to repeat the drill time and time again, even though most of the information they provided – names, addresses, contact information – had not changed.”

Dr. Berlin took immediate action, asking her newly hired data information specialist, Leila Levesque, to investigate whether the Falls Church school district could implement an online system which would make the necessary process of collecting student and family information more efficient and less arduous. After querying surrounding school divisions and area private schools, Levesque contacted infosnap, a developer of school-focused online solutions known then for its work in the private, independent school market.

Levesque knew that doing anything differently had to improve the situation. At the beginning of each new school year, with the print shop at George Mason High School in full swing, Falls Church would send large, thick, costly envelopes of forms, applications and documents home to the family of every student. Registration forms, medical release forms, documents asking for emergency contact information, a federally mandated survey form – these and others were distributed, while Falls Church administrative staff crossed their fingers and hoped they would receive good information – even some information – back from families.

“Maybe one month later, we would begin to receive some information, but there was no way of knowing what condition or how accurate that information would be,” recalled Levesque. “And not everybody got an ‘A’ in handwriting.”

infosnap Develops a Solution

In 2005, Levesque reached out to infosnap to discuss how the company could help her and Dr. Berlin provide Falls Church parents with an online alternative to the mountain of forms sent and processed each year.

After some initial discussions and presentations, Falls Church became the first public school district to retain infosnap, asking the company to develop a web-based enrollment, registration and online forms module. By the spring of 2006, the system was ready for rollout to the families of Falls Church’s four schools and 1,800 students.

“We prepared parents with a notification that went out about infosnap with report cards at the end of that school year, and Dr. Berlin followed up with a letter that went out to families with their ‘snap codes’ – their passwords for the online enrollment and forms system,” recalled Levesque.

To ensure that families without access to computers would be able to conveniently complete the infosnap-powered online forms, Levesque set up computer kiosks at all Falls Church schools, and provided briefings and instructions to staff at public libraries in the area.

“Falls Church is a place where we know we’ll receive lots of feedback, and I’m happy to report it was universally positive about the online forms and enrollment solution developed and administered by infosnap,” commented Dr. Berlin. “By the first day of school that year, and in every year since, we have had complete returns of requested information from about 90% of our parents and families.

From Saving Money to Making Money

Falls Church City Public Schools saved considerable money with the transition from paper. Then a Falls Church community outreach coordinator (and a parent herself) came up with an idea which would allow the school district not only to save money, but to generate real revenues: a module encouraging parents to register their customer loyalty card numbers for regional grocery chain Giant Food with Falls Church City Public Schools.

For years, Giant had provided money for local school systems as a community service when parents would register for the funding with their customer loyalty cards. But for the school system to qualify for the funding, parents had to remember to re-register with Giant every year. Two years ago, Falls Church City Public Schools made it easier by adding a” Giant Food A+ School Rewards” application to its online suite of infosnap-powered form. The results were impressive.

“Before we made the Giant Food A+ School Rewards application one of our online infosnap, Falls Church schools received about $3,000 each year from Giant,” recalled Dr. Berlin. “Last year, we received almost $10,000 – a threefold increase I attribute to making it easy for our parents to register via infosnap.”

Administrators and PTA Also Benefit

Leila Levesque added that parents have not been the only party pleased with the performance of the infosnap online information-gathering system. “Our registrars, administrators and colleagues in the Virginia Department of Education are happy as well, as they have had to follow up with far fewer families, and the time they spent on manual data input was miniscule,” she said, adding that producing reports for the various departments is an easy and quick procedure.

Likewise, parent-teacher associations at each of Fall Church’s four schools have been able to use the infosnap system to collect information from interested parents by the end of September each school year, as opposed to waiting for paper forms to be returned in early November. And from a technical standpoint, she said, infosnap has worked extremely well to modify fields and drop-down menus, add forms, and ensure seamless integration with Falls Church’s “Power Schools” student information system (SIS) from Pearson Education.

A Continuing Partnership

After nearly five years, the Falls Church-infosnap relationship has truly become a partnership – one that Dr. Berlin and Ms. Levesque believe will continue to produce for the school district. Today, that partnership also works in tandem with Falls Church City’s Pearson PowerSchool student information system.

“From their phone support, to the suggestions and recommendations infosnap gives us each year, to the ease with which we can input information produced by our infosnap online forms into our PowerSchool database, infosnap has become an important part of the service Falls Church City Public Schools provides to our families and our community,” said Levesque. “We’re proud to be the first public school district client for infosnap – and we intend to be on the cutting edge with them, and for our families, for years to come.”