Ever wondered who is responsible for the management of your school's database? Well, you're not alone – it’s a more common question than you might think. Who is responsible and who should have access?
Chairo Christian School has been using their School Management System (TASS) for quite some time – but not always to its full potential. We met up with Trevor Ciminelli (Information Systems Coordinator) and Lyndon Calway (ICT Services Manager) to talk about their unique approach to database management and how they transformed the way they manage their school's software.
Why does database ownership matter?
When there is no clear ownership of your School Management System, a number of issues arise; databases become inconsistent, updates go unnoticed, and communication becomes confusing. Trevor acknowledged that their school struggled with this in the past:
Without clear system ownership and responsibility structure, there is no clear understanding of how everything works together and moves forward.
What was the catalyst for change?
“A TASS manager came down one year, looked at our system and left shaking her head. We were not using nearly as many features as we could have been,” Trevor admits. “It’s always nice to get someone that’s not from your organisation to come in and say, ‘this system needs work’.”
A great way to identify if your database is well managed is by conducting an internal or external audit - where you or someone from your school management system provider, deep dives into how the software is being used and maintained.
Someone external who can take concerns to leadership without bias can often be the catalyst for important structural change.
Who owns the School Management System?
Once you have identified any problem areas, it is time to ask the big questions – who is in charge of what? Who is responsible for the software, the database, implementation of new features and overall data consistency and integrity?
“IT Teams can sometimes control not only the maintenance and technical aspects of running a School Management System, but also the processes and the governance as well.
Where we found that to be an issue is the lack of collaboration between IT and the rest of the school, as staff don’t have any 'buy in' to the software used in their area of operation, and therefore no real understanding of how it all works together and moves forward."
For Chairo, the answer is now quite simple.
“IT as a department ended up owning the School Management System. Not necessarily dictating who does what, but managing how data is put together, implementing new features and patches, determining how things are stored, and assisting other departments,” Trevor explains. “We enable people to do what they want by working with all parties involved.”
Chairo developed a specific model for the decision structure around data integrity and governance, with IT taking on the roles of facilitators. As Lyndon explains:
“Our role as IT is to support the system, provide literacy training for IT related matters, maintenance, data integrity and process automation.”
What roles are involved in database management?
Everyone has an important role to play in the day-to-day management of the school database. But who should take care of what?
Lyndon shares Chairo’s approach to delegation:
“Teaching and learning are in charge of policy, governance, teaching practice, compliance, and teacher training. The Admin Team look after the workflows and the processes. But all of those things really have to line up.”
Chairo’s database administration relies on three main roles: a dedicated Information Systems Coordinator, an Information Systems Administrator, and an Information Systems Trainer. Together, they make up the ultimate database administration team!
“We’ve set up an IT team that are facilitators. Our role first and foremost is to help people achieve their goals,” Lyndon shares.
“The Trainer role has also been a hallmark for us. Having somebody on site who is knowing, learning and engaging with our system continuously, and is able to go and sit down with people one-on-one, has been really critical.”
Without a dedicated Trainer, staff tend to rely heavily on their IT Team or Heads of Department for assistance, who may not have the time. For Chairo, being able to have someone in-house who is both good technically and with people, has been the key to giving staff the time and attention they require to make the most of their systems.
Who should have access to the system?
It's no surprise that data security is of utmost importance for most schools, and a big part of that is limiting who has access to your database. Think about who actually needs access, and to what specific areas.
“Sometimes staff can ask for access to something without necessarily understanding what they are asking for," says Trevor. "That doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to have it, but they should have it in a sustainable method that doesn’t mean giving free reign of the entire student database.
An Information Systems Administrator is an important role to have - someone who understands the system, has the access and can interpret what people are asking for. You don’t want all staff (including in IT) sitting there with full database access."
Trevor also mentioned that Chairo is considering getting people certified, such as a Microsoft certification, before they can even touch the system, just so they have that baseline understanding.
Who’s calling the shots?
Just because a certain department owns the system, does not mean they should be the only ones involved in the decision-making process to determine technology needs, challenges, and future projects. It is important to involve a variety of voices when making these decisions.
When asked about their decision-making process, Lyndon stressed that different types of decisions require different people to be involved.
“From a teaching and learning perspective, there’s a Teaching and Learning Team that IT is a part of. So, for things like reporting, classroom interactions, and integration with the LMS, they are decision makers, as well as people we can lean on to get advice.
Then we have an ICT Committee, which consists of our Business Manager, myself [ICT Services Manager], and our ICT Infrastructure Manager - we lead and make decisions around general tech solutions.
Finally, we have an overarching Executive Leadership Team, so when everyone is impacted, they need to be involved in the conversation.”
This structure is important to get new features up and running. Lyndon also expressed the importance of including your IT Team, or an IT representative, in decision-making groups.
“Having an advocate for the IT Team, that has a relationship with the leadership of the school helps build that trust with the organisation.”
Trevor also stressed the importance of including IT in decision-making:
“Sometimes IT Teams are kind of in this dark corner. They’re not part of any decisions, they just get told by the school to do things."
Without an IT voice in decision-making groups, leadership may hand down tasks without a thorough understanding of what they are asking. Trevor recommends keeping a communication channel open between IT and the Leadership Team, so that IT can be part of the decisions rather than having something handed down to them.
Database management is something that if left unchecked, can cause some serious issues. But as Trevor, Lyndon, and the team at Chairo have proven, with the right teamwork it can become a breeze and the question of who owns a School Management System can be answered confidently.
A final note Lyndon left us with was this:
“We’re not the best, and we never want to think we are because then we’ll stop growing, but we just really want to reach out and help other schools to get to the point where we have, so that education as a whole across the country can really start to utilise and develop the systems and tools that they have.”
Special thanks to Lyndon and Trevor for sharing what they learned in the hopes that other school find it insightful.