MCHENRY, IL – March 26, 2009 – When businesses in the Knoxville, Tenn., area noticed that high school graduates didn’t have the basic skills they needed for employment, they decided to get directly involved.
As a result, the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership is backing an aggressive drive to help the Knox County Schools track and correlate student performance, demographic and financial data, with the goal of improving student performance and producing a highly educated work force. The plan has the enthusiastic support of the district’s new superintendent and is being watched carefully by state and national policy makers.
Part of the program is the implementation of a TetraData warehouse and analytics solutions from Follett Software Company. The TetraData package will help school administrators and teachers do a better job of identifying student strengths and weaknesses. It will also support their efforts to develop appropriate intervention strategies to meet individual student needs. Eventually, the plan is to be able to tell just how much instructional "bang for the buck" the district is getting for specific education programs.
"About two years ago we were getting a lot of anecdotal information about recent high school graduates not being prepared for the work force," recalls Gary Spencer, Knoxville Chamber member who was then executive vice president of a Japanese-owned automotive components manufacturer located in the Knoxville area. "The Chamber opened a dialogue with the school district and began asking how we, as a business community, could help."
A 2007 study indicated that the school district was lacking something most modern businesses rely on – accurate, up-to-the-minute performance data. "We discovered over time that the district really didn’t have a fully functioning management information system," Spencer said.
"They had massive amounts of data, but little information to manage by. So in late 2007 the Chamber proposed helping the district develop some data management systems that would provide the information to support the district’s efforts to improve student achievement."
When Knox County Schools hired a new superintendent in July 2008, the move to implement a data warehouse went into high gear. Jim McIntyre, former Chief Operating Officer of the Boston Public Schools, is a big believer in measurement and accountability and this tool fit right into that vision. "Achieving our vision of excellence for all children is dependent upon our having a robust capability for data-driven decision making in operations, district strategy, and most importantly, in student learning," McIntyre said.
"Our partnership with Follett Software will provide teachers and administrators with a critical tool to help improve student achievement at all levels. Our data warehouse will integrate our various and often incompatible data sources to provide our teachers with comprehensive, actionable and timely data to inform their instruction and therefore enhance our students’ academic outcomes," he said.
The Chamber solicited funds to underwrite the initial phases of the project from a private source, The Aslan Foundation. In the meantime, Spencer had retired from his executive position and agreed to head up the project. "Early on, we brought in a team of MBA candidates from the University of Tennessee to look at the district’s data systems, and to confirm our understanding of what might be feasible," Spencer said. "We researched and documented the district’s source systems and information needs, put out a request for proposal in the fall of 2008, and Follett Software was selected to build a data warehouse and provide decision support software.
"We know the solution we have in mind is much, much bigger than just a data warehouse," Spencer said. "But we consider the TetraData warehouse and decision support software to be the backbone of the whole thing."
Spencer said Follett Software’s proposal rose to the top for many reasons. "The Follett team immediately grasped what we were trying to do by linking financial data with student performance data. Several other vendors just didn’t get it," he said. Ease-of-use and flexibility were also big factors in Follett’s favor, according to Spencer. "We received endorsements of the Follett product from several districts across the United States. Some had been using the product for several years. Others were in the process of implementing it – we got great feedback from all the school systems we spoke with."
Knoxville Chamber President and CEO Mike Edwards feels the management information system project will be critical for the district’s future success. "Knox County Schools has committed to some pretty lofty goals, as they should," Edwards said. "But it will be near to impossible to get there without the ability to analyze and manage important information on a near real-time basis. This project will give them the tools to do that and will allow them to be more focused and proactive in resolving the significant issues they are tackling."
"We are thrilled with the possibilities this creates for the district and for our community," Edwards said.
According to Spencer, the job of constructing a system that will give the district the tools it needs to track how efficiently the district spends education dollars will be a multi-phase process.
"We have yet to find another school district doing or planning to do what we have on the drawing board. Right now, there’s not much within the Knox County district’s systems to determine whether spending is effective or efficient," he said. "So, first, we will account for budgeted and actual spending at the individual school level, then to specific programs, then to class year, then subject area as we gain more and more granularity." Spencer said. "Once the cost management system is built and accurate measures of output are in place, the district will be able to determine whether its resources are aligned to meeting its goals and objectives. The art will be to identify the variables in each school’s operations and to track their consumption down to the individual student level," Spencer said.
About TetraData Solutions
Follett Software’s TetraData warehousing and analytics solutions capture, integrate and store data from administrative and educational systems and deliver comprehensive and customized data analysis and reporting. With TetraData solutions, educators can easily and accurately assess the factors that drive performance on a district level as well as on an individual student level. With TetraData solutions, educators and administrators from the statehouse to the schoolhouse find it easier to make decisions that can improve instruction and student outcomes. www.TetraData.com
Follett Software Company is the partner that over half of America’s school districts trust to help them manage everything from library resources and school assets to information for data-driven decision making. Follett Software Company helps districts of all sizes track and use information and resources more efficiently so their dollars are best leveraged to help each and every student.
Follett Software is a subsidiary of Follett Corporation – a $2.5 billion, privately-held company that provides products, services and solutions to the educational marketplace. Follett Corporation was founded in 1873 and has its headquarters in River Grove, Illinois. www.FolletSoftware.com