DAILY INSIGHT: A new Student Information System?

By Steve Smith, CIO Advisor

Student Information System selection, procurement, and implementation is not something most of us want to do more than once or twice in our careers. Unfortunately sometimes we are forced to go through this process as was the case recently in my district. Our SIS vendor of 13 years was acquired by another company that chose to discontinue the product we were using. We were given two years to make a transition. Aware that support and customizations would diminish over those two years, we chose to act promptly.

Last summer we embarked on a SIS evaluation and procurement process that was quite time consuming, but in the end we truly feel as though we have chosen the best possible solution for our district. Just this week the School Committee approved the purchase of the chosen solution. The entire process—from the time of notification of the acquisition to contract signing for a new SIS—took eight months and many hours of developing functional specs, product reviews, focus-group facilitating, and procurement-process navigation.

Although this was not a project we would have chosen to undertake, we are very excited at the outcome. Since our district's last choice of a SIS, many products have matured faster than the product we were using. The engagement of district staff, across all roles, was critical to making the correct selection as well as obtaining buy in from all stakeholders. The response from our staff representation through the process was very positive. Their insights into how they would prefer to use the SIS helped tremendously in the selection process. In the end, all levels of staff truly seem excited at the potential ease of use and increased functionality of the new SIS.

In the event that others may be facing the same daunting task, I share a few words of encouragement. In the end we all are very excited about our new SIS and the opportunities it presents to provide more functionality, a more intuitive user interface, and better access to student data at the classroom level. I would also like to share what made our selection process successful:

  • investigating all options before developing requirements
  • involving as many school and district staff as possible in the entire process
  • ensuring that district-wide and school-specific needs can be addressed
  • keeping the bigger picture of system interoperability and all teaching and learning tools in mind
  • being sure to select a vendor that is very involved with your SEA data collection efforts.

Look for a blog entry next fall discussing our successful cut over and implementation.

Steve Smith is CIO of the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter as @ssmithcambridge.