Janesville School District implementing new computer system this fall

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Nick Crow
Sunday, June 15, 2014

JANESVILLE — The Janesville School District is undertaking a massive renovation to the district's student information systems.

The change will affect 10,000 students and about 25,000 parents, Robert Smiley, chief information officer, said.

"We are really excited about it," Smiley said. "We want to raise achievement and want students and parents to have as much information as possible to succeed."

The program, called Infinite Campus, will place a student's information—grades, attendance, assignments, quizzes, tests, emergency notifications and even lunch payments—into one system.

"We think it's the right change to move a lot of pieces forward," Smiley said.

Parents will be able to see how students perform as soon as their work is graded, Smiley said. Paper grade books will be gone.

Students can use any device with an Internet connection to see when quizzes are coming up, Smiley said.

"It sits on a couple servers at the central office," Smiley said. "The cloud-based system is backed up hourly to a data center in Minneapolis."

Smiley's answers to some likely questions about the new system:

Q: What is Infinite Campus?

A: Infinite Campus is a student information system. Every school district in Wisconsin is required to keep track of student records and report them for state and federal purposes. We keep some of those records for our own needs, obviously, but then certain records get sent up to the state for processing.

So, with that said, a student information system is grading, grade book, special education, food service. It keeps track of discipline, attendance. It keeps track of families' names, addresses, phone numbers. We use it as a communication tool for messages out to parents in text, voice and email.

Q: Where were these things before?

A: We had an older system. We had multiple systems, so we need a single house for the data that's contemporary, that's built on a modern database platform. So we're significantly upgrading the features and functionality.

For example, parents are used to logging into the old system, and they got only so much they could see, so much they could do. But this new system offers a lot more functionality. Particularly like in the way parents can pay fees. It's just a lot better.

The messaging pieces of it are so much stronger--how we can communicate with text, voice and email to parents. And parents have a choice on how they want to receive those sorts of things. They could say, "Don't call me; I want to get a text message." They can choose.

Q: So, this is a change for everyone—not just staff, but parents and students as well?

A: Exactly. For example, the students could log in and see their own information about themselves, their own attendance. There is a calendar in there that they can see when the teacher's put in assignments. The kids can log in and see what that's going to look like.

If you and I were brothers, for example, we could each see our own, and our parents could see both of them, but we couldn't see each other's.

I've used this example before and it's a really good example: Our current system really sees the family environment like a tree—the older traditional family tree with mother and father and children.

But today's environment is more like a family bush than a family tree. You have remarriages, in-laws, out-laws. You've got children from different marriages living in a household.

Infinite Campus is built around that contemporary, modern family. And while it may sound like a small deal, it's a really big deal in the way that people can access information about their children.

Q: Where is Infinite Campus in its implementation?

A: We go live July 1.

It's going to go live for parents Aug. 11.

Q: What's going to be different for parents? What do they need to know?

A: We've worked really hard to make it easy for parents. The same log-in and password they use now will be the log-in and password that they use starting August 11.

Q: What else do people need to know? What's important about this new system?

A: We will be sending out information about student registration as we normally would, but student registration will be in Infinite Campus rather than the old system.

Staff will be trained throughout the summer, and as we get closer and closer to school, there will be more opportunities for training. We really want staff to be comfortable with it and able to use it well and effectively.

Q: How is this funded?

A: It's part of our normal budget. There's nothing special here. As a matter of fact, we expect that over time our costs will go down. We projected when we launched this that we'd see about a 20 percent savings. Using a single system, things are integrated, but we also get a system that's far more contemporary and far more responsive to our needs.

Q: Anything else?

A: The new system runs on a browser-based system. That means it runs on any device whether it be an iPad, a tablet, a traditional computer, a Mac, Windows, an iPhone, a smartphone.

It's really a very sophisticated solution. We've had I don't know how many staff come in for training. We started training staff last November on different aspects. Everybody is excited. Nobody is saying, "Gosh, I wish we weren't doing this."

Everybody's looking forward to the changes, and that's honestly the truth.

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