A Smart Way to Do More with Less

By Bob Anthony, Principal, Dr. David Kistler Elementary School.

With school budget cuts rolling across the country, and even more looming, administrators are frantically seeking new ways to do more and more with less and less. The Wilkes-Barre Area School District is no different—still committed to the best for its students, but working within an increasingly shrinking budget.

WBASD, which covers 160 square miles in Pennsylvania, has 7,000 students served by more than 500 teachers. Kistler Elementary, with 1,035 students, is the largest of five elementary schools in the district. Kistler alone enrolls about 130 kindergartners annually—more than a quarter of the total—including a significant number of transfers from outside the district. New student registration is handled individually by each elementary school. When students move to the high school in seventh grade, their files go with them.

Kindergarten Registration: An Unsustainable Process

Kindergarten registration at WBASD had steadily become a tremendous time and staff commitment for the school district administration, teachers and parents alike. It took up to three weeks elapsed time to process a single child’s records—comprising nearly 5,000 registration documents annually.

The following scenario is all too common in school districts around the country: Parents fill out forms in triplicate, writing the same information multiple times during registration. After completion, support staff key the forms by hand into the school information system. Then multiple photocopies were made and sent via interoffice mail to numerous other school departments. Data accuracy suffered, negatively affecting reporting and putting the district at increasing risk of becoming non-compliant. In addition, the amount of paper being produced was not only environmentally unsound, but it also lead to ever-rising costs for purchasing and storage.

Kindergarten registration, in short, required a mountain of paperwork—copy of birth certificate, immunization forms, two proofs of residence, parents’ driver’s license, consent forms and more. Add in the administrative personnel cost to assist parents in filling out these forms—plus checking for mistakes, filing the papers and digging them up when needed later—and the entire process had become an unsustainable time and cost commitment for school administrators.

Shrinking budgets. Reduced personnel. Increasing class sizes. More stringent reporting requirements. With less and less to do more and more, WBASD administrators realized they needed to find a completely new approach. And so they partnered with SRC Solutions to install the Registration Gateway platform to create a truly paperless online enrollment process.

Paperless Kindergarten Registration

The effort began with the entry point for all data into the district—the forms themselves. Registrars and IT staff worked hand-in-hand with SRC delivery specialists to re-engineer every form in the registration process. This enabled the teams to gain a clear picture of the business rules that would ultimately enable them to automate the entire registration process.

Online student registration allows for a number of beneficial downstream effects. Parents now have the option to complete all initial forms online from home, shortening the time they spend at the school on registration day. If parents arrive without registering first, it’s no problem—a computer kiosk is available at the school without having to tie up school staff.

More Time for Human Interaction

What used to take two weeks now takes half an hour. When parent and student arrive at the school for registration, previously entered data is verified online and the registrar adds the requisite district-supplied data. Supporting documents—immunization records, birth records, proof of residency—are digitally scanned and stored, and an electronic parent signature is captured. A digital camera is available to take photos of students at the time of registration. Registration Gateway automatically populates all remaining forms with the student information already entered. This later becomes the completed electronic registration packet. Meanwhile, the data from the registration process is automatically uploaded to the district’s school information system in real time.

Benefit to parents is only half the human equation. With school support staff no longer manually keying student information, the system dramatically reduces personnel time and data errors, and completely eliminates the need for creating multiple copies of documentation. In addition, it speeds up the time to register a student and allows staff to concentrate on higher-value activities. This includes spending more time with parents to verify information and to review and digitally scan the required supporting documents, which are stored in the student’s electronic file.

More Efficient Routing of Information

Today each form can be automatically routed to the appropriate department for additional information and sign-offs. In addition, the forms themselves are dynamic and can request different data depending on the information entered. For example, when a registrant indicates there is a language other than English spoken, this signals a new line of questioning to satisfy ESL requirements. The electronic student registration record is then automatically routed to the ESL department, ensuring no child falls between the cracks—as can happen with a manual, paper process.

Once the registration process is completed and the child has been through all of the school screening, the parents sign a digital pad. The electronic signature is also used for parents to acknowledge reading all of the school and district policies including dress code, bullying, drugs and alcohol and so on.

In the event that a form is missing, parents are notified via e-mail. If the school does not receive a response within three days, auto-calling will begin. This automation alone saves countless hours and frees up school personnel, leaving more of our school budget to focus on the education of the students and not tracking down paperwork.

Each student now has a computer file with all of the same documentation that was once held in a paper file in file rooms spread across the district. In addition to streamlining the registration process, saving time and reducing errors, the files are centralized and available from any computer with proper security access.

Ease of Implementation

The task of implementing digital registration may sound daunting, but it was a smooth transition with Registration Gateway. The WBASD staff adopted the new technology with ease. Training needs for WBASD employees were minimal, particularly when compared with the number of processes typically handled during paperless registration. A combination of classroom training and practice runs ensured that the staff was fully prepared. SRC Solutions also facilitated a “train the trainer” session to complete the training throughout the school district.

2011 marks WBASD’s third year using Registration Gateway. The district still maintains paper records on older Kistler Elementary students. But even after just three years, 25 to 33% of current sixth graders have fully electronic records because they moved into the district more recently.

Benefits Beyond Enrollment

With the new system, WBASD has realized a number of benefits beyond the enrollment and registration process. For example, when new kindergartners are registered online, younger siblings are identified as potential new students, allowing WBASD to contact parents ahead of time. This makes it easier to find and register students later.

In addition, student documents are now available with one click of a mouse. School nurses can easily pull up a student’s immunization forms. If the local newspaper comes to the school and takes photos, administrators can quickly determine whether the students’ media consent form has been signed.

Revitalized Commitment to Students

Today WBASD enjoys improved data accuracy and reporting, reduced costs for purchasing and storing paper, improved compliance, fewer school personnel during registration, and better relationships among the district, staff and parents.

But quite aside from those very practical benefits, the new system has enabled WBASD to focus more on its commitment to educating students. With the savings from online registration and other downstream benefits and other cost cutting programs, WBASD and is able to continue with full-day kindergarten in a time when many schools are eliminating full-day in favor of half-day—or cutting kindergarten altogether.

To balance out giving students the best attention while working within a shrinking budget, digital registration is one way WBASD has been able to do more with less. As student enrollment continues to rise, educators are being stretched thinner than ever. Digitizing the registration process buys back invaluable time so they can focus their efforts on where it matters most—the students.

Bob Anthony is Principal of Dr. David Kistler Elementary School in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, Pennsylvania.
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