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TechCHAT: Skyward’s Tom King On Streamlining Tech Departments

Tom King, regional sales manager for Skyward, has worked with over 100 district customers in a diverse K-12 landscape over the past 10 years.


Working directly with administrators and school technology departments, King has become extremely knowable on how to efficiently implement and optimize communications and tech functionality in a K-12 environment.  He recently spoke with EdWorld on student information systems and streamlining technology departments.



After 10 years of working with over 100 educators at Skyward, what are districts looking for in student information systems?


The district leaders I talk with are looking for three main things: reliability, security, and scalability. By reliability, I mean the data managed within their SIS needs to be accurate and accessible in real time.


District administrators have a lot on their plates. As an SIS provider, our job is to give them the tools to get the information they need quickly and give them complete confidence in the accuracy of their data. Data security is also vitally important. All staff, students, and parents expect to have access to information in a mobile environment. This creates added pressure for school districts to partner with an SIS provider that will help them keep their data secure. 


Lastly, the solution needs to be scalable. Whether you have a district of 1,000 students or 75,000 students, the SIS must be able to adapt to your specific needs.  When you boil it all down, districts want to partner with firms that are future ready. 


They want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a company will pay attention to the latest trends in education and technology, provide support through those changes, and respond by building new tools within the SIS so it will grow with their district.



Describe how a technology department ideally operates. What are the struggles, and how is Skyward part of the solution? What are some other solutions, both in terms of resources and management?


No two technology departments operate the same way, but one of the most common struggles I see happens when software is purchased by the district without looking at the big picture of how it fits with the administrative side, or the SIS. This can lead to tech departments operating in a reactionary manner.


Ideally, districts would involve the technical staff in all the initial planning for all software purchase decisions related to student information. This ensures that the end result will meet the needs of the staff and administrators before it’s time to implement it.


At Skyward, we handle this challenge by giving every district options on how to set up the software in a way that leaves plenty of room for growth.  For example, we allow districts to include our LMS solution or integrate our software with other products via API.



How can districts revise the traditional training and development model in order to spread knowledge more efficiently?


In my conversations with districts, I get a sense that most are looking for ways to empower their people by implementing the DIY (Do It Yourself) model. Staff members want the ability to find answer themselves when they need them, as opposed to relying on a small group of experts who received the initial training. At the same time, each staff member learns differently. Some prefer to watch videos while others prefer to use written documentation containing screen shots. By offering all varieties of content, the district will be sure to gain efficiencies in adopting the software, and this will give them quality resources to refer to if they are working on something that is not an “everyday” issue.



What’s key to streamlining technology departments at the K-12 level?


With technology moving at an ever-increasing pace, there are sure to be times when IT departments have more than they can handle or have issues that are beyond their level of expertise. Before implementing any new technology, one of the most important questions to ask a vendor is what type of service and support they offer.


Hosting is certainly another consideration for districts with technology departments that are stretched to their limits. More and more districts are opting for cloud-based software. With all updates, backups, and other administrative tasks handled seamlessly and automatically, districts can free up their IT staffs to maximize the internal resources they have.



Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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