Home Leadership The New Tool Belt for Superintendents

The New Tool Belt for Superintendents

by Terry Larabee, Guest Author

Today’s school superintendents must wear many hats. They must have macro-level visions for their districts, set instructional goals, communicate with stakeholders, manage employee relations, establish and maintain budgets, and take on challenges as they come. While working to achieve their district’s goals, they make daily decisions that affect students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

Because their choices affect so many people, superintendents should implement data-driven decision making in schools. Data collection and visualization tools can help. With modernized technology, superintendents can improve parent communication, track student data benchmarks, access state assessment data, and so much more.

Although nothing can make the superintendent job easy, school data analysis software can get technology on their side and help them make informed decisions.

The Role of Technology in Modern School Districts

In today’s K-12 environment, superintendents face shrinking budgets, difficulty helping students in poverty, and trouble recruiting well-trained teachers. In an era where school funding often depends on student achievement and teacher recruitment depends on budgets, superintendents need to find ways to offer increased value without breaking the bank. Technology can help.

For example, student performance tracking software helps superintendents measure the success of their initiatives, so they know what to keep investing in and what they can abandon. Furthermore, parent communication tools help teachers and parents get more value from the district.

Of course, education leaders cannot just introduce new software and walk away. The successful implementation of technology in schools depends on parents, teachers, students, and school leaders using the software. Superintendents can implement programs that explain the reason for the new technology, highlight the benefits to each stakeholder, and teach users how to navigate the programs.

After the initial push toward new software tools, superintendents start to see results. First, they utilize essential data in their own offices. For example, school district data dashboards help superintendents keep track of relevant data and see trends at a glance. The tools also help ease the burden on teachers and can assist with planning professional development and ensuring compliance.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to create excellent learning environments for students. Tech-focused districts do this by taking some burdens from educators and allowing them more time to do what they do best: connect with students. Some tools even help teachers grow and develop into even better educators. Furthermore, leaders use the data from the software to understand what programs work best for their districts and how to best impact student achievement.

Key Tools for the Superintendent Tool Belt

Because superintendents fill so many roles, they need a full tool belt to help them in this technological age. Leaders must also consider the long-term upkeep that any new system requires. Indeed, AASA, the school superintendent’s association, notes that “purchasing decisions about software also must examine what district and company resources are needed for rollout, training and troubleshooting during and after the implementation.”

Parent-Teacher Communication Tools

The relationship between parents and teachers is the foundation of student success. When parents and teachers remain on the same page and support student goals, students benefit. There are a number of parental communication tools on the market, and some are even free. Your classroom teachers may even be using available software to carry out this function.

In evaluating new software, I’d recommend looking for a system that offers a suite of parent communication tools to build this vital foundation, including:

  • Call recording with cloud storage, so leaders always get the full story
  • Texting capability that allows educators to communicate with parents without revealing their private phone numbers quickly, tracking and retaining messages for each student record
  • Direct school-to-parent communication from within the platform including call, text and email.
  • Grades and student behavior logs available to schools within the platform.
  • Ability to translate communications translations so that teachers can burst through language barriers
  • Email integration
  • Data visualization tools to track parental communication and involvement

Data Visualization for School Districts

Superintendents, principals, other leaders, and teachers can all implement data-driven decision making in schools. At the district level, it can be crucial to back up major decisions with data.

The best tools allow superintendents to choose which stakeholders see what types of data, so everyone gets the information they need while adhering to boundaries. With integrated data visualization tools, educators and leaders can:

  • Start each academic year with student data benchmarks
  • Notice trends throughout the district
  • Put together available data for holistic pictures
  • Track attendance
  • Collect data on student behavior
  • Access state assessment reporting
  • Use the student performance tracking system for benchmarks
  • Access comprehensive and customizable reports
  • Use data to understand if their efforts are effective or need change

Professional Development for Teachers

Many educators believe that teaching is just as much about learning as it is about educating. The best teachers take their professional development seriously and always look for new ways to engage students. Many are already benefiting from the use of data visualization, a trend district leaders should consider.

First, leaders use data visualization tools to see in which areas teachers can improve. For example, a superintendent may find that some teachers aren’t reaching out to parents while others have low test scores in their classes. With this data, superintendents can set professional development goals for teachers, campuses, and districts. Data collection and analysis allows districts to track teacher progress toward these goals and the effects on students.

Finding the Right Platform

While some districts have the technology to aid in communication, data visualization, and professional development, getting these tools from different providers can make the data disjointed and difficult to understand. Furthermore, using a hodgepodge of tools can make it difficult for educators to learn to use the software. After all, they can each include wildly different interfaces and not work well with one another.

Since I work with them, I’d recommend SchoolStatus, which offers an integrated solution for data collection, parent communication, and continuing education. With seamless interaction between each of the tools allows for easy training and smooth transitions. Furthermore, superintendents see all the data they need in one school district data dashboard.

Whichever tools you choose, make sure to consider them carefully — and that they’re the right tools for the job.

Photo: Louis Hansel

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