Brattleboro Union High School District # 6
School Information Technology Discussion <[log in to unmask]> writes:
>Greetings from the Burlington School District
>We currently use Pearson's SMS for our student information system. For
>various reasons, we're considering moving to Pearson's PowerSchool. In
>addition to the SIS components, we plan to implement the PowerTeacher and
>parent portal models. We also plan to start using InfoSnap for online
>student registration and general document management.
>So, my questions to the list:
>- Has anybody gone through a PowerSchool implementation recently and if
>so, any advice?
Well, 4 years ago. One piece of advice, which others might contradict, is
the system is highly customizable, and that's one of it's selling points,
but don't do full custom HTML unless you really cannot make the system
work for you the way it is out of the box. It makes it a nightmare to do
upgrades, you may have to revise every screen you wrote when something
Pearson changes breaks them. One customization you can get off the 'net I
do recommend, though, is the enhanced parent portal. It's not perfect, in
particular it breaks the daily bulletin (if you want to see it, you can
sign up on the portal to get it by email), but it introduces several other
handy screens, and lets you turn features of the portal on and off. For
instance, counseling turns off access to next year's schedule once the
schedule is committed from Powerscheduler to Powerschool, because it's
only 75% built at that point, and kids would howl if they saw what
Powerscheduler came up with before the counselors do some hand tweaking.
>- Has anybody combined PowerSchool and InfoSnap? Any gotchas there?
>- For current PowerSchool users: is it easy to access back-end data for
>such things as reporting and data transfer? If not, what are the barriers?
Powerschool itself has three different reporting engines, the oldest one
called engine reports, a newer one called object reports, and the newest
one, called ReportWorks. This is in addition to canned report screens like
ADA or something. It's all pretty arcane. Engine reports are not really
supported any more, but there are things you just can't do with object
reports or reportworks, so I had to find an engine report manual somewhere
and figure it out. If you're a web developer, you could probably do most
anything you want to the data on custom pages, I suppose, it's not
something I've had any experience at. I have many years experience using
ODBC and Microsoft Access, so I usually use that for ad hoc reporting, or
stuff I just can't tease out of one of the reporting engines. Pretty much
all the data is exposed that way, and I'm pretty good at massaging it to
get what I want. Some times there are gotchas. In version 7.8, there was
some sort of bug where you couldn't attach tables to databases. If you
already have a database with the tables you need, you could use it. Good
thing I had one such database that had virtually every table you'd ever
want to use attached.
That's the funny thing about Powerschool: with every succeeding release,
they release new features, fix some bugs, and break things that were
working fine. You feel like you're playing Russian Roulette whenever you
install a new release. One thing that broke a couple of versions ago that
they've never fixed AFAIK is the command to select all students who have
nothing scheduled during a specific period, which is damned handy when
you're trying to put students in to study halls. You can still run the
command, it just doesn't return valid results. You'd think if that got
reported as broken in one version, it'd be fixed in the next, but no, it's
been broken for a couple of years now. Might be fixed in the current
release, I don't know, I upgrade the system in the summer, and try to stay
on that version until the next summer so I don't break anything mid-year,
and besides, I don't have the time.
The first couple of years on Powerschool, it seemed like all I did was
work on reports, but after that, the workflow in the school doesn't change
all that much, and everyone has what they need to do their job, and it
died down, and I was able to get on to other things.
Powerschool has screens for importing, exporting, and manipulating data in
many tables directly. DDA, direct data access, is a screen only your most
trusted sysadmins should have access to, but there are others for doing
mass changes to student fields that are less risky. You can make
templates for data exports you need to do over and over, and even schedule
transfers of data via ftp to other systems on a regular basis. We ship
data to AlertNow (our autodialer) that way. That part of the system seems
to work well for us.
Powerschool does odd things to data sometimes, you have to know this when
you go pulling data. or you may not get what you want. For instance:
When a student drops a class, for some odd reason they multiply the
sectionID and the term ID in the cc table (section enrollments, why is it
called cc? Don't ask me.) by -1. So if you're trying to link the section
ID in the CC table to the ID in the sections table, that's not gonna work
for those records the way you think it should. So you sort of have to
build queries carefully, sanity checking the results along the way, until
you're sure you have it right. Another annoying thing is if you have a
crazy master schedule like us, doing something simple like figuring out
where every student is during period 2 on a white day, for instance, can
be a challenge in an ODBC query. The field where the period(s) the class
meets is stored in a field that's just called "expression" (gee, that's
descriptive), and the data may say 1-3(A-B), where that means it meets
periods 1-3, on both A (purple) and B (white) days. Or it may say 3(A)
6(B). Now go write a formula that computes to true if that expression, and
every other possible value for expression, includes period 2 on white
days, and false otherwise. It's a lot of fun.
Sometimes Powerschool isn't even consistent in what they call a table.
Sometimes the table that stores the historical grades is called stored
grades, sometimes it's called historical grades.
All in all, though, we make it work.
As for barriers to the data, we host our own server, so the ODBC queries
are local. I'm not sure if you have the same access to the data via ODBC
if you have Pearson host the server, if you're thinking about doing that.
If you didn't, that would be intolerable for us, we couldn't do some
administrative functions at all without Access, especially attendance
letters, Powerschool just doesn't do them the way we want to at all. I
suppose instead of linking to the live tables, you could export data,
import that into Access, and report off that, but it would be more
>- Are there PowerSchool users in the Burlington area that might be
>available to discuss your experiences and show us how you use PS?
I'm in the southeast corner, I'm sure there are plenty of experts up our
way, but I'm about as far as you can get and still be in Vermont, sorry!
Feel free to fire any questions at me by email, though.
>Thanks for any and all input as we start down this road.
>Student Data Manager
>Burlington School District
>"Everything will be all right in the end. And if its not yet all right,
>then its not yet the end."
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