Effective Practices : Database Structure and Information Management Systems


Database Structure and Information Management Systems
School Operations Section 5

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1. Who is responsible for computers and technology at your school? Describe the individual’s primary job responsibilities and the manner in which computers and technology fit into the individual’s job.
2. What are the primary responsibilities and tasks related to management of information technology at your school? Which of these tasks are performed by in-house personnel and which are jobbed out to volunteers and IT professionals?
3. Does your school maintain a single database for all tasks (AP, AR, general ledger and accounting, enrollment inquiries and processing, development, and fundraising) or are separate databases or systems in place? How was this decision made?
4. Does your school use proprietary software, or did you purchase off the shelf applications for use at the school? If the software is proprietary, how was it developed? If you purchased off the shelf software how well does it serve your purposes?
5. Describe your school’s philosophy with respect to database structure and information management systems.
6. What is particularly effective about your school’s database structure and information management systems?
7. If you could make changes to your school’s database structure and information management systems, what would you change and why?

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Who is responsible for computers and technology at your school? Describe the individual’s primary job responsibilities and the manner in which computers and technology fit into the individual’s job.
In most Waldorf schools the responsibility for computers and technology is a shared one, with individuals being selected based on both their job at the school and a level of technical expertise. The particular combination of individuals varies greatly based on the school’s particular situation and the talents of its staff and faculty in the technological realm.

At one school the responsibility for computers and technology is held jointly by the communications director and the school administrator. The communications director has responsibility for the school newsletter and web site, and is involved with technology issues due to her web site responsibilities. The administrator has a strong background in information technology. These two individuals handle most routine matters that emerge on a day to day basis. The school also has a very strong tech committee of volunteer parents. This committee is able to respond quickly and capably to all of the school’s requests for support when larger issues emerge.

At another school responsibility for computers and technology is shared between the business manager and a high school math teacher. The high school teacher serves as the contact person with the two outside consultants used by the school. The high school teacher was given this responsibility due to his particular expertise in the area of computer technology.

In a third school the Buildings and Grounds Supervisor is responsible for infrastructural IT issues such as wiring and the recent installation of a router. The finance manager has experience in the area of programming and operations, and is the person who oversees the purchase and licensing of software applications. Parents with expertise in this area are used to supplement the knowledge of staff members, and at times paid consultants are used as well.

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What are the primary responsibilities and tasks related to management of information technology at your school? Which of these tasks are performed by in-house personnel and which are jobbed out to volunteers and IT professionals?
The primary responsibilities related to information management that are handled by in-house personnel at schools include:

  • The purchase and maintenance of a number of computers, peripheral hardware, and all software for staff, student and faculty use.
  • Making sure that all applications are current including antivirus and other software updates and licensing.
  • Maintaining the server that is used for the school’s shared files.
  • Maintaining the wired network in the office area and a wireless campus wide network. Wireless networks are put into place to support high school student computer use, and so that faculty and parents can bring their laptops to school and work in that way. These wireless environments also offer a print server so that the wireless network users are provided with easy print capability.

Oftentimes schools have tech committees which include a number of parents with strong technical expertise in this area. Typically the tech committee members will take care of many system problems such as the wireless network going down to a system crash and data recovery. The tech committee can also be a very helpful interface when the school needs to turn to outside resources for support and service.

Typically the individual users (enrollment director, business manager, communications director, development director, etc.) are responsible for the daily maintenance of their respective systems.

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Does your school maintain a single database for all tasks (AP, AR, general ledger and accounting, enrollment inquiries and processing, development, and fundraising) or are separate databases or systems in place? How was this decision made?
All the schools in our study use several separate databases to support the work of the school, rather than attempting to use larger systems that allow multiple subsystems to share common data. The use of separate systems does require some duplicate data entry, such as when a family moves from being an enrollment prospect to an admitted student, to a billed parent and to a giving donor, and finally to an alumni. However, the simplicity of these separate systems seems to more than make up for the inconvenience of having to re-enter family data.

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Does your school use proprietary software, or did you purchase off the shelf applications for use at the school? If the software is proprietary, how was it developed? If you purchased off the shelf software how well does it serve your purposes?
Most of the schools studied have or have had in the past proprietary software, and while this approach can serve its purpose for a time, the schools do not recommend using this approach. Proprietary software tends to be developed around the way in which a school currently manages its systems, rather than being structured to match the best practices of experts in the field of educational administration. In addition it is often dependent on a single person to make any needed changes or corrections, and it can be problematic for a school if this individual stops providing this support. For these reasons the schools surveyed strongly recommended that proprietary self-developed systems be avoided, and that off the shelf applications be utilized instead.

One of the current decisions that schools are faced with when considering the purchase of new systems is a choice between the use of a hosted (web-based) server and the purchase of software that can be run in-house. At this time hosted systems are more expensive initially, but may prove to be more economical for the school to operate in the long run. These hosted systems are typically used in the areas of enrollment and development. Schools are urged to do a thorough cost benefit analysis of the operating costs of a system, rather than just looking at the initial costs to purchase a new system before making decisions in this area. It is also important to look at the level of local support available for package systems so that difficulties that emerge can be addressed promptly and professionally.

Schools reported using a variety of systems in its operations:

Peachtree, Quick Books, Microsoft Access and Fund EZ were systems that schools reported using successfully in the area of accounting and the general ledger. In the area of enrollment and development schools mentioned Sage (previously called Paradigm) and Campus Trakker (from Trakkware). Campus Tracker has the additional ability for teachers to write their reports on-line and for the individual reports to then be collated so that a complete report package can be given to each student.

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Describe your school’s philosophy with respect to database structure and information management systems.
We do not want any proprietary self developed systems. Instead we prefer to use the expertise of others and to use a hosted system where possible so there are no worries about the system going down. This approach easily accommodates multiple simultaneous users and allows volunteers to work from home.

Remember that the cost of the hardware is a small part of the overall cost of the information management process. When making technology decisions we need to consider the human cost to operate and maintain the system, and not just look at the capital expenditure part of the equation.

It is important to us to have systems that allow multiple users to access the database at the same time. The system has security restrictions that allow us to identify a few people who can update data, allow others view-only capabilities, and deny access altogether to one or another system for other people. The philosophy is to provide information where it’s needed to people who are doing the work, while also providing appropriate security for sensitive information.

We believe that computer technology is an important and appropriate tool that should be readily available to all faculty members, staff and high school students. Children in the younger grades are shielded from early use of the computer and other similar technology.

The school utilizes a central server and then has work stations readily available to faculty and high school students.

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What is particularly effective about your school’s database structure and information management systems?
Our databases are simple to operate. They are intuitive, and can be updated easily with very little training.

The school-wide access to the system is very good, and people are able to get the information they need (and are authorized to receive) from any work station.

The school’s systems are current on all workstations, allowing the school’s administrative processes to work together seamlessly and efficiently.

The people who need to use the various systems are comfortable with them, and are well trained in those systems.

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If you could make changes to your school’s database structure and information management systems, what would you change and why?
What we have today is not effective. The actual implementation process for whichever new system we select will not be that hard - the decision of which package to choose and which approach to take (hosted versus in-house) based on the long term cost/benefit analysis is the big decision for us.

One thing that does help us in the area of information management is that several of the high tech companies in our area have great matching gift programs. For example, parents that work for Hewlett Packard can participate in a 4 to 1 match program where donations are matched at $4 dollars for every $1 donated. This benefit is calculated at retail, rather than at the discount prices available at the local computer store, but even at this level the matching gift produces at least a 2 to 1 return on dollars donated for technology purposes.

The school is generally happy with its computer systems and its use of technology. Some fine tuning is always required such as the current need to add some additional data fields to support the work of the school in the area of alumni giving.

As we see turnover in our very stable staff technology issues may become a bigger issue. Right now people have a great deal of tenure and have learned to make our older systems work for them. These systems are not very flexible, and as we get new people with fresh ideas on our staff we may find that the time will soon come to invest in new systems with enhanced capabilities that allow us to manage our business in new and improved ways.


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