Scheduling one of Washington State's largest school districts (K-12) with Tandem
Kathryn: We had a specific situation one spring where there was a end-of-the-school-year concert at Redmond Junior High that conflicted with one of the graduation activities at Redmond High School at the same time.
Laurie: When we started interviewing schools about their needs for having good communication from their website, one of their biggest needs was that they needed to have a place to have calendaring available on-line for their parents.
That was just sort of my aha, oh my gosh, we really need to find some way of getting a hold of what's going on at the schools.
Last year, we were faced with some very difficult budget cuts, and one of the items we looked at was the printed wall calendar that we've sent to parents every year for I don't know how long. It's a very traditional thing to do. People put it up in their kitchens and write on it, etc, but what we discovered was this is something that we could do without now that we have an electronic on-line calendar, and many more parents are relying on electronic calendaring, so they can either go directly to the Tandem calendar, or if they've imported into another electronic calendaring system that they use, they've got access to all those dates without having to get a paper printed calendar that was costing us a lot of money.
Once we decided that we wanted to look for a calendaring tool, we just went out and looked at what other districts, other schools were using, really just went out and did a search and discovered that there was this wonderful company right in our backyard that was doing a great calendaring program.
The project we were working at the time was to build out 50 school sites, web sites for each one of our schools. A secondary problem that we were trying to solve was to consolidate the way that they communicate and calendar out to their public or to their community about the events that are happening in their school.
In the project that we were doing, it was definitely secondary, but it turned out to be something that we could train in tandem, no pun intended, because the two worked together so well. It's that school-to-home communication that we needed to really improve, and I think we did with both the efforts we were using.
We were implementing on the SharePoint platform, and so, SharePoint comes with a calendaring program built in out of the box. Our question was, should we use that or should we buy something else, and upon looking at what it would cost us to customize the SharePoint calendar, and when I say cost us, I mean because we're hiring outside developers to write dot net programming to alter the look and feel of the SharePoint calendar.
In order to make this SharePoint calendar do what Tandem already did out of the box, we figured it would cost us more in development than it would be for us to implement a product that was already in place, so it was a no-brainer for us to go with Tandem.
Before Lake Washington School District used the Tandem calendar, each school was responsible for their own calendar, so some may have kept paper and pencil, some may have done newsletters. Others just didn't keep any consistent calendar. That didn't lead to a whole lot of understanding about what's happening at feeder schools or nearby elementary schools, junior highs, high schools.
The complication that I would have if I didn't have the Tandem calendar is I wouldn't know what's happening at all of our schools, and we wouldn't have a good way of displaying the information to parents and community members.
The majority of parents that are using the Tandem calendar and using the My Tandem section of the calendar really do appreciate the features and getting notifications when events are added, canceled, changed in any way.
We've started training opportunities that we offer about once a month to different staff members or parents, depending on who from the school is going to add events. People understand and say, "Wow, this is easier than I thought it was," so I would describe the Tandem calendar as intuitive and very easy to use.
How I would describe Tandem is it allows many schools within the same school district or a single school alone to really keep track of what's going on, have it available in a way that's accessible to parents and teachers. If you're talking from a district administration standpoint, it makes it much easier for us to be able to schedule district-wide events that we don't then discover that it conflicts with some really important event at a school that's been on the calendar for a year. We don't always hear about those things. We've got 50 schools, so keeping track of what's going on in 50 schools, from a central office standpoint, is pretty difficult. Now, it's very easy to just open up the Tandem calendar and see all the things that are going on at those schools on a particular day at a particular time. One of the things that happened after the Tandem calendar was put in that we didn't even realize was going to be a benefit was our front desk receptionist at our resource center is often the last gasp for parents to go to when they've forgotten what time is the curriculum night tonight. They try and call the school.
The school is already closed. Well, our front desk is staffed until 4:30, so if they're making that last minute phone call, when they call Shelly at our front desk, now she has a place to find out where all those school events are and what time they are, so she has a reference for all 50 schools, that sometimes means she can get the information to a parent who's forgotten so they can get access on the computer or they don't have a computer nearby at the time.
Feedback from administrators has been very positive. They're very happy to see all their items in one place to make it very simple. The office managers and secretaries are the ones that usually would be getting all those phone calls, when is this meeting or that event, and they're not getting so many phone calls anymore. They're not having to answer the phone over and over again and tell them what time the PTSA meeting is or the curriculum night is and those kinds of things.
The parents love it. It's very simple for them to keep track of what's going on.
I've been a parent in the district since 2000, for 10 years. Our PTA is putting together the bulletin and I'm pasting a calendar into our bulletin, and then, our school has a way of sending it out with their database.
Having an on-line calendar can be up-to-date, to the minute. It's live as soon as you input it and that's even better. I thought it was really easy to learn, and I like the look of it. It looks clean, professional. I'm just a little PTA mom and I can make the calendar look pretty cool.
I like how I can choose the different views, because when I'm doing our electronic bulletin, I can just choose the list. I can copy and paste that. The Tandem looks much more polished than some of the others, and to me, that's important from a standpoint that this is important information. It looks important. I know as a parent, I'm really feeling the benefit of having these great tools.
Tandem is a comprehensive event calendar that many different groups or departments across a large organization can use and share, and it was tested with a small group of people that gave lots of feedback, so you're already equipped with the tool that you need to answer the need for schools.
The features that are there are rich for exactly what we need, a place for parents to be able to subscribe, staff members also, a place for them to interact with their own personal calendars. Those were two of the requirements that were really high for us. We didn't want to just have an on-line calendar and not have people be able to interact with it. We needed people to interact with it, because that's the expectation in today's world.
Now, on our school sites, we have a space reserved on our homepage for an RSS feed that comes from the Tandem calendar. The district events were on this calendar, and so whether the school participated in the use of the Tandem calendar or not, there still had some events that were populating that space on their homepage, and that was the district events. Upon seeing that and knowing how easy it was to refer people to that space and/or to keep up on what's actually happening in their building, we started to see more and more schools coming on board.
We built a relationship with the company upon implementation partially because they're in our hometown, but also because we feel we have a lot of needs in our school district that are universal and might improve the product, so we felt very comfortable giving suggestions to the development team at Tandem on improvements that we thought might be good for all of their customers. The response was overwhelming. The company is responsive. They're interested in knowing the needs of their customers. They're willing to make changes that are something that everyone can benefit from, and we really appreciate that.