The third largest school district in Washington State, Tacoma Public Schools is responsible for serving more than 28,000 students across 65 school facilities and sites.
The district set ambitious goals to narrow achievement gaps among ethnic and economic groups, increase graduation rates, and decrease dropouts.
||With the help of Microsoft Consulting Services, we were able to to help bring the right discussions to the table to be able to get [school administrators] to imagine the possibilities.
Executive Director of Technology Services
Tacoma Public Schools
The biggest challenge that Tacoma Public Schools faces with this goal is overcoming the traditional culture prevalent in the education system, including a general lack of understanding regarding how the latest technology can deliver appropriate, real-time data for making relevant decisions about education.
Shaun Taylor, Executive Director of Technology Services, Tacoma Public Schools, explains that “across a district of this size, there are a significant number of stakeholders who have a sincere desire to improve the educational process for all the students. Getting the right information to each stakeholder can be a daunting task.”
In order to institute an effective solution throughout the district, the Technology Services Department invited Microsoft® Services to help provide leadership and demonstrate to school administrators how the correct data usage can have the greatest impact. The solution needed to:
- Provide an effective and timely data distribution and analysis tool for multiple stakeholder groups.
- Provide clear and easy indicators on performance and risk of students.
- Aggregate several data sources.
Tacoma Public Schools decided to build an information sharing solution and recognized the value of bringing Microsoft Services onboard to help. The experience of implementing hundreds of Business Intelligence (BI) engagements allows Microsoft Services to deliver the service with minimum risk. “Microsoft Services helped provide a high level of confidence in the solution architecture and development as we began to move forward,” says Taylor. Working together, Microsoft Services, Tacoma Public Schools Technology Services, and school administration decided on a solution that included Reporting & Analysis as well as Data Warehousing that would help identify at-risk students.
The solution was implemented using the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack including: Microsoft SharePoint® 2010, Microsoft SQL Server® 2008, SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), Microsoft Excel®, PowerPivot, and PerformancePoint®.
A smooth functioning solution is critical to Tacoma Public Schools. In order to be able to operate and enhance the solution after the Microsoft Consulting implementation engagement is complete, Tacoma Public Schools has been investing in their people and IT infrastructure in partnership with their designated Microsoft Premier Support Technical Account Manager. Tacoma Public Schools has leveraged onsite Premier Field Engineers and Training Workshops to gain the necessary enterprise knowledge to improve the availability, health, and supportability of their systems and operations to allow for productive use of this, and other Microsoft solutions.
Taylor, admist the value of engaging Microsoft Services on the solution, says that, “the solution isn’t technology alone, but the integration of all the solution pieces implemented in a way that optimizes our investment. Microsoft Services has the expertise to perform this task.” SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2008 make up the foundation for the data storage and management in the solution. Building on the foundation to provide additional capabilities, SSIS provides Tacoma Public Schools with a platform for building an enterprise-class data integration solution. Once fully integrated, they used SSRS to build a server-based platform that supports the district’s needs for a variety of reporting capabilities across different stakeholder groups. End users can also leverage SSAS in order to dive deeper into the data through online analytical processing (OLAP).
“Engaging with Microsoft Services helped us see the project through from beginning to end in an efficient manner, keeping the partnership productive,” says Taylor about working with Microsoft Services.
The Principal Portal is the part of the BI solution targeted specifically toward Principals at each school in the district. The Principal Portal provides a view into the data unlike anything previously available. Mr. Taylor described the “Principal Portal [as] the outward view of the BI solution that truly demonstrates the value of performance data when making decisions in education.” The initial rollout is designed to deliver real-time information to help Principals make decisions quickly.
Describing the value of this solution, Mr. Taylor explains, “Indicators of student’s performance occur early in educational years and follow them throughout high school. By tapping into this performance data early, educators believe they can improve educational success.”
The next step will be to roll out a similar solution to teachers which provide real-time data on attendance, performance, student risk indicators, and other important metrics.
By tapping into the educational performance metrics, IT hopes to demonstrate the value of having and distributing BI data to key stakeholders including teachers, parents, and students as a way to improve educational success.
The BI solution enables Tacoma Public Schools to manage and deliver appropriate, real-time data through an integrated system that includes business productivity features such as collaboration tools, search capabilities, and content management.
Real-time Performance Metrics
As a result of the BI solutions that are being deployed within the Tacoma Public Schools, Principals and teachers have access to critical performance data. “Principals can know as soon as they walk through the door which students may be missing from classes, which classes may not have teachers present, and which students have had recent disciplinary actions taken,”
Real-time data allows Principals to act quickly, improve overall quality of education as well as anticipate potential problems.
Moving to the Cloud
Looking to the future, Tacoma Public Schools IT has developed their BI solution with the cloud in mind. Their BI solution is designed to make the transition smooth as they consider their plans for migration to the cloud.
When asked about the possibility of transitioning into the cloud, Taylor said that Tacoma would consider the cloud as long as it supported an educational need, “Matter of fact, our Principal Portal solution is a collaboration process from multiple sources and we’ve architected it to leverage the cloud as a method to support the collaboration.”
As the school district recognizes the value of real-time data and analytics to improve student performance, IT has the potential to roll out more solutions. Building on the quality of resources provided by Microsoft Services and the solution architecture, Taylor believes their BI solution will likely be the model that other districts adopt when planning BI solution development as well as deployment to the cloud.
For more information about how Microsoft Services can assist you, please visit: http://www.microsoft.com/services
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