Lead without Limits Wisdom from Katy ISD: Five Keys to Visionary Initiatives

Posted by Matt Berringer on January 14, 2016

When the leadership of Katy Independent School District wanted to improve the use of analytics to support informed decision making, they charged the district’s Business Development Department with envisioning and launching an initiative that would transform teaching and learning.

Jamey Hynds, Katy ISD’s director of business intelligence, recalls the challenge his team faced. “We’ve got more than 70,000 students and almost 10,000 employees in this district. So we gave a lot of thought to identifying an effective population to target with this initiative,” he says. “We really wanted to make an impact at the student level. After our assessment, we concluded that an initiative initially targeted the 250 to 300 principals and assistant principals at our campuses would have a direct impact on our students.”

Over the next year, the team took on the challenge of creating a Principals Dashboard. According to Hynds, the tool, which is much more than is implied by its name, transforms the traditional model of information gathering used by most districts. “It’s not just a dashboard. We built a performance management portal. The project started with the creation of a complete enterprise data warehouse, which is linked to our student information system, eSchoolPLUS, and to our business information system. Currently it is also being ported to link up with our assessment information system,” he explains. “We imagined and then created a faster, more efficient way of information gathering. By pulling all those data elements into one place, we are allowing campus leadership throughout the district to really drill into the data and make decisions from a single screen. They now can answer their own questions, rather than having to request reports from us.”

Reflecting on the success of the project, Hynds said that five aspects of their approach really made a difference on their journey from ideation to reality.

Involve Stakeholders

Hynds says stakeholder involvement was integral to the project’s success. “We’ve started with the idea of trying to improve the information that is available to campus leadership. And, with that in mind, we met with several principals from each level and different areas throughout the district,” he said. “We selected a Requirements Building Group. Through an interview process, we developed a full understanding of the needs that weren’t being fulfilled and gathered their thoughts on what would make the campuses more efficient.”

Strive for Effective Communication

Effective communication will make or break a project like this, according to Hynds. “The number one thing that makes or doesn’t make something like this work is communication with stakeholders. I was constantly updating people and letting them know what was coming,” he says. “We have leadership meetings every month, and I probably spoke at four or five of those throughout the year, just providing them an update on the project.”

Paint the Picture

Hynds advises districts undertaking a project like this to remember that pictures are worth a thousand words. “It was hard for people to fully understand what we meant when we first started talking about dashboards and analytics and interactive data. People were accustomed to transactional systems and spreadsheets. Now and then, they received a graph, which they printed from a PDF,” he explains. “Being able view a broad collection of data in one place and actually utilize it to evaluate student achievement was something that nobody could really imagine until we started showing it to them. Once they saw the pictures, they could immediately give feedback, either positive or negative.”

Move at the Speed of the Organization

Hynds advises patience when undertaking a project as transformative as this. “You have to move at the speed of the organization. If you try to push something on people that they aren’t ready for—even if it’s the latest, greatest thing there is—it’s not going to matter,” he explains. “You have to take your time and make sure that people are moving forward with you. It’s got to be a methodical and well-thought-out plan of how you are going to get new technology out to people who aren’t accustomed to using it.”

It’s Not Over Even When It’s Over

Hynds emphasizes that even when the initial project is rolled out, the evolution is not complete. “I don’t think this ever stops. I think it just evolves. The technology is going to change over time … and so do other aspects of the project,” he says. “Being able to build on the solution or the platform will continue for a long time in the district.

“I think the next step for this effort is to identify some centers of excellence within the district. Find those schools that are really using it well, find out how they are doing it, and take that model and show it to everyone else so that we can expand on what we’ve done,” he says. “Eventually, this is going to be a much broader system than it is now. It will be expanded to the teacher level and to our departmental administrators as we turn the corner on the use of analytics in the district.”

The Business Development Department of Katy Independent School District, Texas, has been recognized as Data All-Stars in the Lead without Limits Awards program, sponsored by FIS (formerly SunGard K-12 Education). From nominations from school district personnel from across the country, the team of administrators was selected as those who best use data to positively affect student achievement.

Topics: Texas, eschoolplus, Lead without Limits Awards, Best Practices, Katy ISD