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Since we launched Intellispark, “making student success a team sport” has been our preferred shorthand for our theory of change. It’s not that we don’t recognize the great work that has taken place in thousands of schools and districts where teachers, administrators, and counselors work together with students, families as well as community-based organizations to meet kids’ unique needs. But, we’ve always felt – and still feel – that a more systematic approach is needed, along with new tools that facilitate the kind of communication, collaboration, and coordination that this level of teamwork requires. That is what drives us every day.

Learning from our members

About a week ago, I had a chance to speak with an assistant superintendent in one of our member school districts. In her role overseeing education services, she’s responsible for a broad array of teaching, learning, and support services that directly impact the experience thousands of kids have at school every day. She assumed this role in 2020, during a historically challenging period for schools.

I was curious why – in the midst of a pandemic and while settling into a big, new role – she chose to start working with us. Moreover, we know that many educators feel stretched, and it’s critical that leaders be responsive to that reality even as they work to ensure the best possible outcomes for kids. As we spoke, many themes resonated:

  • The commitment to care for each child is already deeply embedded across the district, but educators lacked a comprehensive system to manage that care.
  • Other systems – like the district’s student information system, learning management system, and IEP system – are helpful for instruction and compliance, but they aren’t designed to help teachers, counselors, and administrators coordinate care.
  • Students and families work with many different individuals across the district on a regular basis, and they need to feel that each of those interactions is linked. They shouldn’t have to reintroduce themselves or their children to each educator, but instead there should be continuity of care.

These themes are all part of a broader ambition the district describes as “one district, one team” – which aligns very well with our goal of making student success a team sport. But there’s another point this assistant superintendent made that’s worth noting – one that acknowledges many on her team feel stretched but suggests that having a system like Intellispark Pro to coordinate care is critical to building capacity. Implementing the care coordination system can help the district’s faculty and staff save time and gain greater control of their work, while improving the level of collaboration across schools and with families, which will ultimately allow the team to feel less stretched and less stressed. In too many places however, including this district before last year, care coordination relies on a hodgepodge of spreadsheets, email, and checklists – leaving holes in a district’s safety net and creating frustration for its staff.

Creating capacity with purpose-built tools

It’s impressive – and a clear validation of the importance of the task – that so many educators have taken steps to create their own tools in an attempt to coordinate care. That said, there’s an enormous difference between what you can do with a spreadsheet or an email archive and what you can accomplish with a system that’s been designed and refined with a purpose in mind. At a minimum, an effective care coordination system needs to make it easier to:

  • Know the name, face, and story of every student – Too often, schools and districts rely on dashboards that reduce students to a handful of indicators while missing the narrative. Measures that track academic performance, attendance, and behavior are useful, but it’s essential that educators know the human story behind the data. Knowing the name, face, and story of every student makes sure that relationships remain at the core of every interaction, which contributes to improved school climate and better academic outcomes.  
  • Protect privacy while enabling authorized individuals to share data – Harnessing the power of a team requires sharing data and insights among team members, and in the context of supporting students, the definition of team must be broad enough to include families and others outside of the school staff that play a key role in each student’s growth and development. When sharing student data, it’s essential to design for privacy. Shared spreadsheets and email archives don’t provide the detailed level of access controls required to comply with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and state student data privacy regulations. In addition, they can be especially cumbersome to share with families and community-based practitioners, who play a key role in supporting kids. A system designed for secure sharing with multiple levels of access control can ensure that individuals get access to the data they need to support kids while improving data privacy across the district. 
  • Take action to address individual needs – Many systems provide useful analytics or reporting tools but stop there. An effective care coordination system isn’t just about identification and tracking. It’s also about taking action. Once you’re aware that a student needs a particular service, a care coordination system should make it possible to initiate a request for that service and communicate with others about that need. Where feasible, the care coordination system should be able to track follow up to ensure that agreed tasks are completed and that all interested parties can monitor progress. 
  • Get results without creating new administrative headaches – Having a clear picture of what’s happening across a school, district, and community in support of each kid has led some schools and districts to implement call and email logs or other tracking tools. Unfortunately, many of these tools add to the administrative burdens that already weigh heavily on educators – and, not surprisingly, they are used infrequently. A well-designed care coordination system makes it easier, not harder, to get results by combining the need to track your work with the process of doing the work.

We are honored to work with so many passionate educators who are navigating these complex times in service of their students and families. As we speak to school and district leaders, we take comfort knowing that we’re helping to make the challenges they face a bit easier, and we take inspiration to push even harder. We are on a mission with Intellispark Pro to ensure every educator has purpose-built, professional-grade tools that facilitate an increased level of care with less manual effort.

 

 


 

In just the past year, schools serving nearly 100,000 students have joined the Intellispark Community. We’d be thrilled to share with you what our members are doing, speak with you about your needs, and see if Intellispark Pro would be a good fit in your district. Please send us a message or schedule a time to meet. We look forward to hearing from you!

Stephen Smith

Stephen M. Smith is CEO of Intellispark, past chair of the national board at College Possible, and a member of the Johnson Advisory Council at the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University. Steve is co-author of Who Do You Think You Are: Three Critical Conversations for Coaching Teens to College & Career Success, published by John Wiley & Sons.