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Automation, a worthwhile hassle

Automation: Is Implementation Worth the Hassle?

How much can a change in perspective affect a school district’s central office? Sounds more like life advice from Deepak Chopra than applicable guidance for running a school district. The truth is, a lot of seemingly impossible tasks have been made possible through technology and automation. The issue is that these particular tasks are regular sources of anxiety for central office and administrative personnel, and the idea of letting go of some responsibility is frankly terrifying.

A lot is at stake in a school’s central office – there are kids to worry about, parents to answer to, privacy to protect, and state and government funding to lose. Not exactly a stress-free environment. Letting go of this stress can make us feel vulnerable to error, so it’s understandable that a change in perspective about the technology-takeover is difficult to make, especially for the “digitally-challenged”.

Let’s go through some of these pain points to understand why letting go of the stress is something you can actually do in order to streamline tedious processes without error and in total compliance with state and federal laws, and yes, even with the parents.

Eliminate manual data entry for registrars during student registration.

  1. Why it Hurts: Data needs to be clean, complete, and accurate. Without perfect data, a lot can go haywire – Can you imagine not having the right contact numbers for a student in a time of emergency? Asking a school district to give up some of the control here is scary, for understandable reasons.
  2. A Change in Perspective: Get clean and complete data, with real-time flow to your SIS, by allowing the parents to enter student information and documents Type-ahead data fields prevent error by literally forcing parents to submit data in a certain manner. For instance, they must submit an actual USPS-verified address, and they must submit 2 or 3 or any number of emergency contact information as the school requires before they can complete their enrollment process. Little red asterisks can go a long way, and strictly prohibiting parents from skipping questions doesn’t hurt, either. Parents aren’t bothered by this process; they are thrilled knowing that the school district has everything they need from the guardians to keep their kids safe. They also love that they can have access to an appointment scheduler, allowing them to pick the time that works best for their own schedules.
  3. Relieve Stress, Retain Control: When setting up an online registration system, the implementation team should be responsive and willing to customize a school’s registration system to their needs. We can’t speak for anyone else, but at SRC, this is absolutely true. School districts are assured they can ask all their usual questions to make even the heaviest paper registration packets electronic. Some even choose to make the student handbook a requirement of this system, kind of like accepting the Terms and Conditions to use certain websites. Another thing to remember here is that your registrars still hold the power to review, accept, or deny any data that comes through the online registration system, making sure that incorrect data doesn’t slip through.
  4. Take a Deep Breath: Once approved by the registrar, these student enrollments are sealed, and flow directly into the Student Information System. Meaning the registrar never has to make a copy or pick up a phone to notify anyone that a new student has enrolled. Notifications are automated – everyone who needs to know, knows immediately, and is only given access to the information they are allowed to see. This is guaranteed to be in full compliance with federal laws like FERPA and HIPAA, as well as any state and local retention mandates. So YES, you can let go of this stress!

Get every document needed from parents on time, and know exactly where they are at all times.

  1. Why it hurts: This is not a new problem for school districts. Parents often forget to bring certain documents with them to their registration appointment, and those documents become harder to track down as time passes. Frequently calling and emailing parents to request these documents is urgent and important, but is annoying for both parties. In times of emergency, such as a house fire, parents usually look to the school district for copies of birth certificates and similar precious documents that may have been destroyed. This is just another reason it’s important for schools to be meticulously organized – failing to present these documents to a family in need is not only tragic for the family, it also damages the reputation of the school.
  2. A Change in Perspective: Intelligent Document Management Software. Man oh man, is that a mouthful. Basically, it refers to an incredibly intelligent electronic repository where all documents are stored in digital form. Within the repository, there are all kinds of placeholders to make sure that each document is appropriately labeled and secured, so that each document is extremely easy to retrieve – but only by permissioned users. It also refers to the means of transferring these documents into the system. Physical scanners can be linked to this repository by using a data glyph or bar code related to the individual student and document type. When the data glyph or bar code is scanned, it communicates where the document belongs to the repository and lands in the right folder and the correct document-type placeholder. So when you scan Jane Doe’s 4th quarter report card from 3rd grade, it doesn’t go anywhere except the place holder made specifically for Jane Does’s 4th quarter report card from 3rd
  3. Relieve Stress, Retain Control: So a fancy digital filing cabinet exists, how does that help a school district retrieve documents from parents? Well, there are actually a couple of ways this fancy filing cabinet can make your document dreams come true. First, parents can scan and upload these documents from home. Just like with registration data, registrars must approve and allow the submitted documents to take their place in the repository. Second, imagine the physical filing cabinet in your office calling out every missing document in every folder: Jimmy is missing his immunization record! Susie is missing her permission slip for next week’s field trip! Now imagine that physical filing cabinet pulled out a phone and texted Jimmy and Susie’s parents about their missing documents, and sent them an e-mail as well. By pulling daily reports about missing documents, and setting automated notifications to parents, you can automatically email and text parents until the document is provided. This can happen once a month, week, or every day if you like. It’s still under your control – you just don’t have to physically do it.
  4. Take a Deep Breath: This doesn’t just refer to student documents! It can handle records requests, HR documents, and essentially any other type of business process you may want to automate. Sure, the process has to be built out first – you can’t just go scanning and hoping the repository will figure it out – but there’s really no limit to what you can’t do here. And think of all the trees you can save!

Save a lot of money and time.

  1. Why it Hurts: Because DUH everyone wants to save as much money and time as they can, this isn’t news! This hurts because saving money can require doing less for your staff and student body. This hurts because spending money to save money is risky. This hurts because taking the time to fixate on the details can prevent big issues down the road.
  2. A Change in Perspective: We’ve already been through the ways you can allow staff to stop fixating on the details while still be totally compliant to legal policies and provide great communication to students and guardians. So let’s just think about the time and money it takes to make copies, deliver copies or call around the school to notify other personnel, file documents, find documents, set appointments with parents, buy stamps, lick envelopes, and mail home report cards and policy updates and permission slips, etc. Although individually these tasks can be small, they add up a lot of minutes and cents in the end.
  3. Relieve Stress, Retain Control: When your district utilizes an online enrollment system and/or an electronic document repository, you slice most minutes off of these tasks, and eliminate the printing, paper, and mailing costs that go with them. You also spend money paying your staff to have more productive workdays.
  4. Take a Deep Breath: The software we’ve been talking about isn’t exactly cheap, nor is it easy, breezy right off the bat. Staff needs to be trained on how to use it, and the implementation team on the software side basically needs as much training too, in order to deliver the best solution for the district. But is it worth the cost and the time it takes to get the software in place and the staff up to the task of using it? Absolutely. Most districts recover the cost in their first year and have exponential savings in following years. Staff members become more knowledgeable and comfortable each year, which expands the capabilities at hand. Guardians love that they no longer have to wait in long lines for their registration appointments. As taxpayers, they’re thrilled that their money was used to modernize the school district and make student information more available to them and accessible on their own time.

Going digital isn’t just possible, it’s worth it, and easy in the long run. It’s time to admit manual data entry and document retention isn’t as useful and safe as it feels, and it’s okay to upgrade! Treat yourself and your district to Intelligent Data and Document Management.

Digital Possibilities: Automated Reporting and Retention Compliance

So you’ve gone digital…now what? To get the most out of an electronic record database, automation is key.

But in order for automated reports and retention to work as flawlessly as it can and should, settings must be carefully programmed for certain categories of documents.

It’s simpler than it sounds. Think of a computer’s document library. Clearly labeled folders make for easy navigation, and sub-categories even more so. The folders simply must exist before documents can be routed into them, but within an electronic record database, the routing itself can be automated. The same goes for expiration notification. For example, let’s say that a document category titled “Volunteer Background Checks” has an expiration parameter set for 6 months. Based on the day each document flows into this category, a notification to request an updated document is automatically set for 6 months later. Once the parameter is set, automation can take over.

Furthermore, with electronic records of student documents, reports can pull and export themselves autonomously at a scheduled time.

We really like the export functionality. We used it a lot when we started having applications (for new students) come in. But, it being our first year using the software, I was nervous when my planned two week vacation landed on our launch date. In order to prepare, I created a few reports and scheduled an export to send to the necessary personnel first thing in the morning every day during my absence. This allowed for all involved departments and operations to run smoothly without missing a beat.

— Christine Potenza, Database Administrator, Passaic County Technical Institute

Reports generated by a sophisticated document management software are helpful when it comes to organization and projection for future planning. Compliance with state law around retention schedules, and federal laws such as FERPA and HIPAA, can also be programmed within an electronic record database.

Retention Automation

What is record retention?

All government entities, including public school districts, are required to maintain records under federal and state law. The maintenance of records is a legal requirement and is important for documenting the activities on which state and federal tax money was expended. Records also make policies transparent and preserve the history and knowledge of government entities. For school districts specifically, federal laws such as FERPA and HIPAA are taken into account when structuring state record retention schedules. States may not lessen a federal requirement, but they may extend it. The same rule applies for local government extending upon a state’s guideline. Further, states and/or districts may have regulations where the federal government has none. For example, federal law does not, in itself, require that a school keep a transcript for any length of time. However, many states require that schools keep student transcripts forever.

What is a record retention schedule?

A record retention schedule protects both the district’s interests and the public’s rights by providing guidance to the district about the management of records. A retention schedule tells the district how long to keep certain records and gives the district authority to destroy records when appropriate. It specifies how long records must be kept and includes references to laws that govern the retention period for particular documents. School district personnel should follow their district’s record retention schedule regarding the destruction and retention of all records collected, created, received, maintained, or disseminated by a school district.

How can electronic document management platforms aid with compliance to record retention schedules?

An electronic document database allows school personnel to take record retention out of the hands and minds of staff members. Basically, the responsibility of document organization, retention, and destruction can all be automated within a secure repository.

  • Organization
    • Through the use of scanning software, documents can automatically enter the right file with the right retention settings.
  • Retention
    • Upon the expiration date for the document, it can either be removed from the system if authorized for destruction, or notify personnel that an updated document must be submitted to replace it.

It’s as simple as that.

Automated Reporting

How is it done?

When records exist electronically, organization and tagging are paramount to perfection. Labeled categories and sub-categories allow school personnel to pull some pretty interesting reports. For example, the overarching category “Student Records” is comprised of each student’s individual file. In each student file, records exist within the same sub-category. Simply, every file holds a birth record, a medical record, proof of residency, etc.

From an advanced document management dashboard, a well-managed view of records can be found and automatically updated daily. Things you should be able to view from a dashboard include new enrollments and expiring documents. On the other hand, missing documents are just as important to catch – and it is much easier to catch them when the student file is already built electronically and simply waiting for blanks to be filled.

Another useful function of automated reporting is scheduled exports. This refers to certain reports that need to be updated and referred to frequently, such as new student enrollments. With a scheduled export, your registrar can program this report to be pulled every day. To go a step further, your registrar can schedule the export of all new student medical documents and have it mailed to the school nurse every day.

How can advanced reporting help with budgetary and day-to-day planning?

To plan for coming years, schools need to glean a lot of statistical information from their student records. By capturing data at the time of enrollment, and updating that data throughout the student lifecycle, numerical evidence gives specific and trustworthy insight from automated reports. When done manually, these kinds of graphs are subject to human error. When calculated algorithmically through computer-generated reports, the results are much more dependable.

Reports can be generated based on an infinite amount of variables. For example, if your district captures data at the time of enrollment, they may ask registering parents how many siblings under the age of 5 a student has. From this information, a report may be pulled to show a projection for kindergarten registration. Another example may be a report pulled over the summer to show how many students will reach legal driving age. This would help project for the necessary amount of parking passes that may be distributed at the beginning of the next school year. Reports showing student eligibility for free/reduced lunch may help qualify for grants. Reports showing honor roll qualifiers, their amount of siblings and legal guardians, and allergies may help to plan a dinner event celebrating an Honor Roll Induction. The possibilities here are endless, and school district staff can get creative in order to prepare for an equally endless amount of situations.

Conclusion

Through expiration parameters set for certain documents and data, school districts can use electronic record management to automate compliance with federal, state, and local retention schedules. Additional reporting can aid in day-to-day organization for many different departments, as well as extending projection capabilities to help with planning and budgeting for coming years.

 

"expired" reads a timer

The Smart Way To Track Expiration Dates

There’s only one feeling worse than a looming deadline, and that’s forgetting about it entirely. The repercussions of missing an expiration date can be as innocent as that unsuspecting sip of sour milk, to as dangerous as trying to manage tens of thousands of vaccinations.  Schools in Maryland are taking their first attempt at reigning in this problem. 3,800 unvaccinated children may have to leave Baltimore County School District until their vaccinations are verified by the school.  When that deadline hits, the issue isn’t exactly resolved, at least not for the students who will get to stay in school. Their “deadline” simply gets pushed back to when their vaccination expires. These types of deadlines must continue to be monitored attentively, which brings us to the real issue: the hassle of managing the expiration and mandatory renewals within a school district.

To make an example of what is transpiring in Baltimore, let’s delve into their situation. Schools all over Maryland are barring children without proof of vaccination from entering public school districts, which means monitoring deadlines for both parents and school staff. In order to make sure these children don’t become oversights to school administration, vigilant tracking of medical records and vaccination expiration dates is not only necessary but crucial. Vaccinations are just one example of important deadlines of which school districts must be wary, which is why new techniques of monitoring expiration dates should be explained and available to school districts across the country.

It’s more complicated than it sounds.

The tricky part about vaccination expirations is that every student (and employee, for that matter) has a different date of expiration – and often, this means a different date of expiration for each individual vaccine as well. It is incredibly difficult, if not nearly impossible, for a school district’s team of nurses and secretaries to stay on top of five or more different expiration days for each member of the student body.

This is almost exactly the case with employee and volunteer clearance expiration dates. In states like Pennsylvania, where adults with access to students need four separate clearances (Acts 24, 34, 136, and 151) and a current background check, school administration runs into the same cyclical dilemma of notifying personnel of the demand for updated documentation, resetting expiration dates for those who provide said documentation, or executing proper expulsion from campus.

There are a few key steps that a school district needs to take in order to keep kids safe from disease exposure and unauthorized adults: accurate tracking of all clearance and vaccination dates, significant forewarning to parents, volunteers or employees of their impending deadlines, timely collection of updated student, volunteer and employee records, and attentive removal of certain students or personnel on their expiration dates, should the parent or staff member not provide the necessary documentation. That’s one full datebook for the school nurses and administrators.

Super complicated, right? Let’s put it in perspective.

Let’s create a more tangible example of this problem: School X, a part of School District Y, has 1,000 students. Each student has a medical record showing, or not showing, proof of 5 separate vaccinations. Each student has a different expiration date for each vaccination. School X’s 2 nurses and 4 secretaries use a calendar and a spreadsheet to keep track of the students’ expiries. There are 5,000 different expiration dates, with three dates preceding the ultimate expiry on which they must send a request for an updated medical record from the student guardians. That’s a total of 15,000 dates, and our imaginary school is on the small side. It gets even more complicated when you realize that parents who respond after the first or second date need the subsequent notice dates removed from the calendar.

It goes without saying, but can easily be forgotten – these expiration dates for security clearance and vaccination records never truly expire, with the exception of permanent expulsion, graduation, or death – they only get pushed back and require more rounds of record requests.

A complex problem needs a complex solution

The simple way to stay on top of expiries is to create calendar notifications within a computer system as soon as official records are received by the school. This is a tedious, drawn-out task, which means human error abound. However, the major problem with a simple digital calendar or spreadsheet solution is the lack of forewarning for these upcoming dates. The only date these simple applications really help to track is the date of ultimate action – the day that student or employee must be removed until an updated record is received.

If a school district really wants to stick with the simple solutions, then dates to notify parents and employees (often a first, second, and third warning) must be marked on the calendar or spreadsheet as well.

Instead of struggling to track the mountain of expiration dates constantly on the horizon, more complex solutions to record-tracking are available for this exact purpose. Paradoxically, the more complex your software solution is, the simpler the responsibilities of the humans operating it become.

Record-tracking software can more efficiently store each and every expiration date, for students and for volunteer and employee clearance expirations. Furthermore, record requests for school personnel or parents can be automated to send on the appropriate day before the deadline. Notifications can also be automated to remind the school employee that the request must be sent out. Thus the task of deadline-monitoring becomes less of a mind-boggling pile of student and employee records and more of basic attentiveness to the record-tracking software, with the same vigilance of checking one’s e-mail inbox every day.

In order to be more proactive about upcoming expiries, administrators, nurses, or other permitted employees can view the expiration dates of highest concern exclusively so that they can be dealt with in the clearest manner possible.

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