The Data-Driven District

The Data-Driven District

At ISTE 2015, “data” continued to drive many conversations. Is it safe? Is it valuable? Can you actually personalize learning with data? It is unlikely that any one tool will organize all school data into one neat package, but there are products that can solve a multitude of other tasks using data, such as …


Dennis Bloom, director of operations for Stillwater (MN) Area Public Schools, used data from GuideK12’s ( geovisual analytics software to demonstrate that the district was overcrowded in the south and under capacity up north. “Our district is 27 miles long, but very narrow, and busing could not solve our enrollment issues,” he says. The GuideK12 data enabled Bloom to show population growth and density and the points where students live. He used the data in staff meetings to look at populations and boundaries. This information helped him to determine the best spot to build a new elementary school, which he presented to the school board.

In May the district passed a bond for $97.5 million, which will enable it to change all grade configurations: K–6 will become K–5; middle school (formerly grades 7–9) will encompass grades 6–8; and high school will now include grades 9–12. The district will build activity centers at the high school and a new elementary school, in addition to improving playground accessibility and expanding a middle-school science classroom.

“When you can pull up a map and plug in all K–5 students that currently attend this school and show them on a map and circle the scattergram, it helps everyone see what is happening. Four years ago, I did a boundary change using spreadsheets and maps and needed two weeks to put it all together. Today, I can show the data and solutions right away.”


“The reports generated from SmartFindExpress ( help us gather the data we need to achieve outstanding performances from students and staff,” says Linda Bardere, director of communications/community relations for San Bernardino City (CA) Unified School District (SBCUSD). “SmartFind helps us pinpoint when and where a substitute will be needed so we can plan in advance.”

Bardere, a former elementary school teacher, understands that a teacher can’t always notify the school if he or she is going to be absent. The district doesn’t want to combine classes until a substitute can be found, so it works well that SmartFind helps administrators quickly pinpoint where a substitute will be needed so they can dispatch someone to that classroom.

SmartFind also facilitates district handling of classified staff such as custodians and office support. “The reports help us gather data, including reasons for absenteeism. By studying the data, we can see that more teachers are out on Monday and we can use that information to plan accordingly, such as never having staff development on Mondays. The reports allow us to do better short-and long-term planning,” Bardere says.

When a teacher or staff member calls in to the phone system, the data is input into SmartFindExpress, which triggers whom to call to get a substitute for that grade level/subject. Reports—generated weekly (or whenever the district wants)—deliver all sorts of information, from the number of employee absences to lists of the most qualified substitutes and their availability. Administrators can track absentee levels at their school site or see at a glance who has been out every Friday.

Because they’re able to dispatch substitutes immediately, Bardere says, the data helps the district ensure that students do not lose out on a quality education. Because SmartFindExpress helps keep schools fully staffed, SBCUSD is now celebrating a 100 percent graduation rate at Middle College High School, as well as graduation rates above 91 percent at two of the district’s other high schools.


Great Oaks Career Campuses in Cincinnati, Ohio, has four separate college-size campuses that each work independently. In the past, if an incident occurred on one campus information about it usually stayed there, even if it was something that was also happening at the other three locations. All of that changed when the schools began using PublicSchoolWORKS ( software to manage compliance tasks, staff training, and accident reporting. “Now, when we collect data, we store it electronically and can review it,” says health and safety coordinator Al Gille. “We noticed a bump in the reporting of injuries at our police academy, which trains students to apply for jobs in law enforcement.” Gille checked into the numbers and found that the incidents were occurring during subject control/handcuffing sessions, particularly when students were practicing how to handcuff each other. “We investigated further and learned that [this practice] is an inherent danger,” he says.

Another time, Gille saw a lot of reports about students being bitten by lab rats. When he analyzed the data he saw that these incidents usually occurred when there were substitute teachers in the animal science classes. Now the school has a policy that substitute teachers can’t handle animals. Even better, the policy has been instituted at the other campuses as well.

“We’re using the data proactively,” Gille says. “We look for common errors and answers to why something is happening. Like every other institution, funding is tight [for us] and we have to be smarter about how we spend money. Data is a big component, and having PublicSchoolWORKS in place lets us respond smarter and more quickly.”


Pennsylvania districts use MMS Student Information Platform ( as a student information system (SIS), and Burgettstown (PA) Area School District was able to use the product’s data for an early-warning system. “The MMS Dashboard lets us look at attendance, behavior, and course grades to identify students who are red flags and not meeting the levels we expect,” says Mandi Figlioli, assistant to the superintendent at Burgettstown. All of the data is automatically updated nightly, so Figlioli can log in each morning to look for red flags at the grade level or building level. “I can see the data individually or collectively. How many discipline referrals? How many bullying incidents?” The information is now accessible and usable, which has saved her a lot of time and hassle. “I used to go to all different places to look for information on a student; now it’s in one place. If there’s a red flag I can assign interventions, since the SIS is partnered with the intervention catalog we’re building.”

Burgettstown, a rural district, is extremely pleased to have access to this type of software. “When I was a teacher, I kept a data binder with hard copies and hole punching and all that,” says Figlioli. “Now I don’t have to waste time constantly collecting data. The Dashboard finds the students, and we can spend our time solving the issues.”


In order to get students where they need to be more quickly, Nicolet High School in Glendale (WI) began using Skyward’s Positive Attendance ( This new method of taking and tracking attendance shows when a student is present, rather than absent, during the school day. The high school has 1,100 students, each of whom has a 35-minute resource period each day to seek academic help. In the past, students had to go somewhere to record their attendance and grab a pass to go where they needed help, but that wasted a lot of time and resulted in losing the instructional opportunity that the resource period was created to improve.

“With Positive Attendance, we record them as they come into the classroom and mark them present from there,” says John Reiels, director of technology. As they come in, students enter their five-digit ID code on a keypad that’s connected to the teacher computer and it marks them as present. “Skyward created a system in which, instead of being on a roster, students can be where they need to be and not where they’re assigned to be. If they have trouble with math or science the night before the test, they can go directly to that teacher during the resource period to get extra help instead of wasting 10 or 15 minutes going somewhere to get a pass first.”

Thanks to the data, administrators know where students are going and don’t lose track. In addition, they can look in the Skyward system and see, for example, that a student went to get extra help with math three times in two weeks. They can then assign a guidance counselor or teacher advisor to investigate the pattern to see if it aligns with expectations or is an anomaly. “We have the data to redirect them to make a better choice, if need be, or we can assign them to the resource,” says Reiels.

The data helps the school know if each student is making decisions aligned with their needs. Also, if administrators see that lots of students are going to English or science, for example, they can talk with the teacher to determine if he or she needs additional support.

“Basically, the data helps us make sure children make good choices. An advisor can sit with them and say, ‘You’re struggling with science and going there four days a week; what else can we do to help you?’ It lets us have much better conversations,” says Reiels.

Another benefit of Positive Attendance is that it’s easy to find a student in school at a particular time. In the past, with paper passes, it was much more difficult. “Attendance is usually about tracking absences,” Reiels says. “Now we are tracking attendance.”