PowerSchool Problems Persist

Additional resources put into addressing issues with program

PowerSchool Problems Persist

By Anahita Hurt, Online Co-Editor-in-Chief

As the district has dealt with PowerSchool rollout issues, they have decided to enact a new project, PowerSchool Implementation. This project is being led by PowerSchool Project Manager, Susan Fowler.

Fowler  said neither PowerSchool nor its rollout are the issue, but that it is simply the change.

“The biggest issue is that it is a big change for our district,” Fowler said. “As with any big change, there is a learning process involved. PowerSchool replaced our former student information, learning management, and special education management systems, among others. We are learning to use this new platform and learning how it interacts with all of the other technology systems the district uses.”

PowerSchool is a new platform, which is still getting updates, and it is the top of line, according to Fowler. As the district adapts to PowerSchool, PowerSchool itself is adapting.

“Additionally, as we implement the new platform, PowerSchool continues to evolve,” Fowler said. “PowerSchool is viewed as an innovator and a company on the cutting edge of making enhancements. This is both an asset and a challenge for us. Many of the enhancements are not only new to us, they are new to PowerSchool. We’re learning together. Finally, a lot is being done in a short amount of time. Our focus is on making sure essential functions work properly and that we are accomplishing the highest priority projects, which are those that affect student learning.”

Fowler  previously worked in the district as HR supervisor. She was assigned to lead the PowerSchool Implementation due to overlap in the two positions

“I oversee staff assigned to manage the various aspects of PowerSchool implementation,” Fowler said. “There was overlap in my role as HR Supervisor with PowerSchool processes, so I was already involved in that capacity. When the district decided that additional leadership and resources were needed to assist with PowerSchool implementation, it was suggested and I agreed to be the project manager because of my prior experience in implementing the personnel/finance software system.”

Because the school district allotted  PowerSchool Implementation team more resources, some staff members, such as Fowler, were reassigned to the project. Superintendent Anthony Lewis believes the team now has the proper staff members assigned, and the district will begin to see improvements.

“There is no quick fix to implementing a new system of this magnitude,” Lewis said. “I think PowerSchool Project Team is on the right path. The team continues to improve the way in which we are implementing the platform through training, communication, and technical support.”

Lewis was a part of a video released by the district in December to explain their new plan for solving issues with PowerSchool, including the Implementation project.

“I used the video to communicate a consistent message to all of our staff,” Lewis said. “One of our school board members, GR Gordon Ross, explained the board goals behind the purchase of PowerSchool – – to streamline technology systems and improve communication and engagement. I apologized to the staff that the district rolled out the new system too quickly and before we were ready, and shared my appreciation for their patience, perseverance, and problem-solving attitude the first few months of the school year. Our new PowerSchool Project Manager, Susan Fowler, and a team member, Kirsten Wondra, talked about the steps the district has taken in meeting with PowerSchool’s support team to develop a 60-day action plan for accomplishing high priority tasks and short- and long-term goals.”

Diane Affalter is the Lawrence High registar. She has been in the district since 1994. Powerschool is used in a large portion of her work.

“The lack of communication when we’re needing something,” Affalter said, regarding the most frustrating parts of Powerschool. “Not understanding why it is what’s needed and our urgency to have that completed as soon as possible. I know that all of the schools have things that they need; with the high school, these students are going onto college and things needed to be fixed quickly, the transcripts needed to look correct. This is the next stage of our students education if they are choosing to go. Even education verifications need to see a transcript to see GPAs and if they had graduated.”

According to Fowler, transcript and GPA errors were caused by dropped classes showing up on the PowerSchool created transcripts and the PowerSchool calculated GPAs. Student Services staff are reviewing all student information before it is processed and sent to Parchment to create transcripts.

“At the beginning, it was pretty hard, we didn’t really have a transcript…” Affalter said. “It took until almost October to get that put together. We had to visit with the district repeatedly — well, not repeatedly — several times to get one created because we had admissions to colleges coming due, and so, they quickly put something together. It’s not the perfect looking transcript, but it is doable.”

90% of Affalter’s work involves PowerSchool. To deal with the transcript issues, she has to regularly switch between programs. When transcripts are requested, she has to look through folders of standardized test scores because PowerSchool, as currently implemented, can only record one score at a time.

“At this point, I can’t say that there is,” Affalter said, regarding what she likes more about PowerSchool. “There’s a lot more clicking before we can get to where we are. Since I’ve been in the school district, this is our fourth software program. We had — it was called the Mainframe, back in the day, and then we had Sassy, and then we had Skyward, and now we have PowerSchool. I feel, with this being the best program in the state right now — we have the top of the line — that it should be able to do a lot more, we just haven’t been trained yet on how to make that happen and I think what they’re doing is as we need things and let the district know, they’re scrambling to try and help us figure out how to that report.”

Ceramics teacher Deena Amont has had many issues with PowerSchool since its implementation.  

“I feel like the biggest problems are lack of communication and poor training,” Amont said. “Although I think this is being addressed now, information about PowerSchool was not being communicated to teachers in an effective manner.  It took several months to set up a system for teachers to get help, such as the PS specific help desk, email, and PS user group page. This was obviously something that should have been anticipated prior to the PS rollout. Regarding training, we technically had a full day to do training on the first day back to school, but the training was a disaster.  A few of the reasons: the program wasn’t live, the trainers weren’t adequately trained, and there was no follow up training.”

There are many things that frustrated Amont regarding PowerSchool, but the training was one of her biggest issues with the program.

“The lack of training,” Amont said about what frustrates her most. “I don’t learn well having to search a google user group for an answer for something. I’d prefer actual organized, planned training (it’s not too late), and practicing hands-on during the training.  I don’t appreciate having to call the Live Assist support system and having to jump through a bunch of hoops to get an answer to a simple question.”

Amont has had many issues when trying to use functions she previously used on Skyward in PowerSchool. Due to some issues, Amont has returned to using paper and pencil tests, which seems like a step back, considering the district’s big push to involve technology in school.

“Where to start???” Amont said, regarding her issues with PowerSchool. “Testing has been a problem for me. I probably have some unusual requirements, for example, for my jewelry class safety test, I give a multiple response test (not multiple choice), and I also need students to be able to retake the test.  PowerSchool does not accommodate that. Powerschool does not tally student tardies. I sent in a request to fix that. Powerschool does not indicate student attendance status on the due date for an assignment (like Skyward used to do). This is helpful when recording grades so you can easily tell that a student was absent and that explains why they didn’t hand in the assignment.  I put in a request for that to be an added function in PowerSchool.”

PowerSchool was meant to replace multiple resources in the district, such as Skyward and Blackboard.  Staff want this goal to be fulfilled, along with better training.

“We were sold PowerSchool with the information that it would replace not just Skyward, but also Blackboard,” Amont said. “It is not functioning (for me anyway) like Blackboard did, and I want it to have at least the same functionality as Skyward and Blackboard. Another big issue for me is that there is still no sign of future training.”