When it comes to choosing a school management system (SMS), this is an impactful decision that affects everyone at your school. That’s why it’s imperative to carefully consider the effects an SMS has on everyone involved in the day-to-day operations. Choosing an SMS can be a complex process, but with the proper planning and evaluation, it can be greatly simplified.
Remember that choosing the right SMS is crucial for enhancing administrative efficiency, improving communication, and streamlining processes at your school. Taking the time and effort to make an informed decision will contribute to a successful implementation and long-term benefits for your school community.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process.
Identifying Your School’s Needs
Since no two schools are generally operated the exact same way, it’s important to identify what your school’s needs are. Needs means you cannot compromise, so try to think about functionality and features that are mandatory for an SMS to have. In doing so, be sure to also keep in mind your school’s processes. How your school enters grades, takes attendance, charges school lunches, etc., is paramount to the success and operations at your school. By communicating this information to the SMS company you’re working with, that’ll help you discover if they have the workflows in place to meet your school’s needs.
Identifying the User Base
As previously mentioned, choosing an SMS has a direct impact on all users at your school, so you’ll want to make sure the SMS is well-suited for all parties. Having a representative from each user group would greatly benefit the entire search process. This gives all users a chance for their voices to be heard, and the decision for an SMS can come collectively.
Here are some potential representatives to assist in the decision process:
- Administrative Assistants/Office Staff
- Academic Administrators
No matter the situation, money is always going to be a significant factor. Instead of thinking about the overall cost of the system, though, it may be beneficial to consider the factors that make up that cost. For example, can you pay yearly, biannually, or monthly? Is there a contract period? Are there fees to access certain modules? Can you pay for additional customization of reports and report cards? These are a few components to think about in breaking down the price for an SMS at your school.
Budgeting time is of equal importance. Making an informed decision about the best SMS for your school takes time, and you should take as much time as you need to ensure you’re not rushing the process. It may also be worth creating an RFP (Request for Proposal) to show to SMS companies. Not only does this eliminate the guesswork, but it will help you manage your time by providing a map of what needs to be considered and included in an SMS.
Feedback and Comparison
When it comes to feedback and comparison, there are three important items to make note of:
- Demo the product
- Follow-ups and trials
For many reasons, the product demonstration will be vital in deciding whether an SMS is the best fit for your school. During the demonstration, feel free to be thorough and ask specific questions that tailor to your school’s needs. It’d also be helpful to request a recording of the demo. That way, you can continue to further analyze and compare the product to other systems.
Once the demonstration is complete, request a trial or demo site. This will allow you to test the user interface and various features that are applicable to your school. As a follow-up, you can also ask for a contact reference in case you have additional questions while you’re demoing the site.
Documentation is equally important throughout the process. To ensure you are organized and have all moving pieces in one place, find a resource to document all of your questions, observations, and opinions in the search for your new SMS.
After you have demoed each product and start narrowing down your selections, you’ll want to consider how you go about the implementation process. Time is one of the most important considerations, as you’ll need to carefully plan how much time you need to export data from your old system to your new one. Timelines can vary when implementing a new system, but you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time so you’re not scrambling at the beginning of the school year. You’ll also want to work with the on-boarding team to lay out how long the process will take, what type of data is needed to export, how much training is involved, etc.
Speaking of training, it’s an additional factor to significantly consider. Does the vendor provide the training? If so, for how many members of your team? Will you be required to train your teachers? What resources do you need to learn and get accustomed to your new SMS? These are some questions you’ll want to keep in mind throughout the implementation process. While implementation should intentionally not be rushed, you can make it a more effective and efficient process by laying out a timeline and the required training steps that are needed to get your school up and running with your new SMS.
Making the Choice and Communicating
As aforementioned, a decision as large as selecting an SMS should rarely be made by one person, so keep the lines of communication open. Open communication helps lay the groundwork in the decision-making process. It also ensures there are many voices working together to make the final decision.
Change is difficult for many people. While everyone won’t be excited to move to a new SMS, by communicating and listing the various reasons why the decision was made, this will help create understanding and a smoother transition. Choosing an SMS is for the benefit of your entire school – not just one person or group of people. By communicating that message and encouraging feedback and concerns along the way, you can be satisfied you made the right decision and have a product that can benefit your school for years to come.
To learn more about choosing a school management system, watch a video of our in-depth buyer’s guide to assist you in this process. Make sure to also schedule a demo to start your free trial to learn more about Sycamore School.