A fully integrated student information system enables maximum efficiency

Follett's Aspenª meets complex data needs at Bethlehem Central Schools

For a number of years, an aging student information system (SIS) plagued Bethlehem Central Schools, located near Albany, New York. By spring 2013, it was apparent new software was needed to maintain the data about the district’s 4,900 students.

“We correctly predicted our SIS would soon be considered end-of-life and would no longer be supported,” says Dr. Sal DeAngelo, chief technology officer for the district. “We wanted to stay ahead of the curve and find a new solution before that happened.”

In researching different options on the market, the goal was to find an integrated system that allowed for different data and information management systems to be housed in one place. “This adds value and minimizes the points of entry and chances for errors,” says DeAngelo.

Also crucial was selecting a system with a robust parent portal. “We had a proprietary parent portal that was used extensively,” says DeAngelo. “Since we knew parents would rely heavily on the new parent portal we wanted to make it a high priority from the start.”

Report cards, school-to-home communications, lunch menus and bus route schedules were all digital, and it would be ideal to find an SIS that could include these items, says DeAngelo.

DeAngelo’s team began an aggressive, well-defined evaluation process and invited six vendors to do presentations to a select group of stakeholders. Three solutions providers were then invited back for a full-day demonstration for the 25-member evaluation committee. Follett’s Aspen SIS emerged as the clear choice.

Aspen is a centralized platform that allows for management of student data and scheduling. Instructional planning, as well as gradebook functionality and state-specific reporting, are also integrated into this all-in-one SIS.

“Aspen brings together all the aspects we need in an SIS and district communications platform in a way that is functionally intuitive and aesthetically pleasing,” says DeAngelo.

The fully integrated electronic gradebook and parent portal offer far more functionality than the district’s proprietary system had, says DeAngelo.

After signing a contract with Follett in March 2014, Aspen went live in Bethlehem in July 2014. “It was a very aggressive implementation because we wanted to get the system completely up and running for the next school year,” says DeAngelo.

To ensure stakeholder buy-in, DeAngelo, superintendent Dr. Thomas J. Douglas, and CIO Bruce Turek created a marketing campaign. They then attended faculty and PTO meetings to give presentations and to perform demonstrations. “We communicated our vision and showed the different user groups the possibilities,” says DeAngelo.

In August, there was a two-week, 150-session training for teachers to increase their level of confidence going into the school year when it came to using tools like the new gradebook. Forty “Turnkey Teacher Trainers” were appointed to provide the initial training sessions and supplemental peer support during the year through dedicated email and voice hotlines. There was also a district implementation website where teachers could find out when training events would occur and who the trainers would be, as well as access tutorials by Follett, read FAQs and ask any questions about implementation. For these intensive implementation efforts, Bethlehem was awarded the 2015 Aspen District of the Year in the medium-size district category.

“We do not always just follow other districts’ recommendations,” says DeAngelo. “We like to lead. And we saw that Aspen would give us the next generation of SIS.”

Since implementation, the system has performed as expected, with user groups having 24/7 access to critical student information, according to DeAngelo. “Follett has done an excellent job supporting our software remotely. They are among the top companies I work with when it comes to providing end-user support before, during and after implementation.”

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