5 Lessons Learned from Implementing a Total School Management System in a Hybrid World

  • February 25, 2021
  • by Sheila Wyer

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Just over a year ago, I was designated as the point person to lead my school through a complete overhaul of our student management technology. Little did I know, agreeing to the task would take on a whole new level of importance come the following month.  

The school community at Southside Christian School (SCS) in Greenville, SC considers me somewhat of a jack of all trades. During my 16-year career as a SCS Sabre, I’ve held various roles—including head coach of the girls’ soccer team. But my current role on a small-but-mighty team of two IT leaders has afforded me the opportunity to make a big mark on our school’s history.  

At SCS, we pride ourselves on striving for excellence in all we do. This mentality is what prompted us to analyze the digital experience we were providing to our families in late 2019. And being honest with ourselves, it wasn’t up to the standard we hold our school to.  

So, we set out to find a new technology solution. One that delivered an excellent experience to our families, faculty, and staff. One that would allow us to eliminate our disparate point solutions and bring all of our data together in one place. This search led us to Blackbaud, and we kicked off our implementation in February of 2020.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, we made what some may consider a rash decision to continue full steam ahead. I’m proud (and admittedly relieved) to say our entire school was up-and-running on the new system by June 2020! 

Here are five lessons I learned throughout our implementation process: 

1. Involve All Key Departments in the Evaluation Process.

By including leaders from every department across our school in the vendor evaluation process, we were able to narrow-down our frontrunners quickly. Keeping with the theme of striving for excellence, we asked each department leader to paint a picture of their “perfect world” as it relates to technology. We condensed those visions into a comprehensive list of requirements which guided our discovery process. Taking the time to get each representative’s input not only helped us make the right decision, but it also encouraged top-down support of the implementation from faculty and staff.  

2. Build an Implementation Timeline that Works for You. 

One of the main reasons we chose Blackbaud was for its integration capabilities. We were really excited about the opportunity of having all of our student data—from initial application all the way through alumni—in one place. For that reason, we chose to implement the entire student management system at once. I encourage you to consider your school’s goals, major milestones, and resources when mapping out your implementation—whether that means you implement the whole system together or in phases.  

3. Don’t Allow Uncertainty to Prevent Progress.  

When we chose to move forward with our implementation at the onset of the pandemic, our faculty and staff expressed heightened concern around making the shift during a time of such uncertainty. But what we noticed as we moved forward was that the sudden transition to virtual learning revealed more shortcomings in our current technology and reinforced the need for change. As a result, our school community was even more on board than before.  

4. Identify Change Champions.

To encourage successful adoption of the new solution, we knew change management would be a big priority. We set and communicated expectations early and we scheduled dedicated (socially distant) training days. But one of our most-effective strategies was appointing “change champions” among our faculty, staff, and students. These leaders became super-users of the solution and were the go-to source of information and support for the departments and groups of students they represented. Not only did this speed up our training process, it ensured that trainings were tailored to each group’s priorities.   

5. Get Your Families Excited. 

Similar to the change management tactics we deployed with our faculty and staff, we started communicating with families about the coming change early and often. We chose to take a fun and creative approach to our messaging that encouraged our families to have a positive mindset from the get-go. First, we created a brand and mascot for the new system that aligns with our school branding and values. Second, we outlined the benefits of the new system that would alleviate the most-common complaints we heard from our families about our existing system. This work came together in a Facebook campaign that generated a ton of buzz and excitement leading up to our go-live—most importantly, our families were prepared for the change.  

With several months on our new total school management system now under our belts, I’m pleased to say that we’ve seen awesome results. The integration between all of our systems is driving efficiency across our entire school. The ability for our families to access all of the information they need in one place has streamlined communications and greatly improved our family experience.  

If you’re considering new technology for your school but feel intimidated by the process and work required, I’m here to tell you it’s possible—even in the midst of a pandemic—and it’s well-worth the effort. 

Hear Sheila talk about more best practices and lessons learned in this free on-demand webinar: Implementing a Total School Management System.

About the Author

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During her 16-year career at Southside Christian School in Greenville, SC, Sheila has become known by faculty and staff as a jack of all trades. As the Sabres Varsity Girls Soccer Head Coach, she’s led the team to multiple regional and state championships; and as IT Systems Support, she led the SCS community through a complete transformation of their school’s technology. Needless to say, Sheila plays an important role.