Houston schools tie new student information platform to digital ecosystem

In the middle of CoSN’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this month, Houston Independent School District’s IT chief, Lenny Schad, had to fly back to Houston for a crucial district board meeting.

Schad returned to Chicago a day later with good news: After months of meetings and preparation, the district’s recommendations to move forward with a new student information system received a green light from the board. The SIS adds a final and critical building block in Houston ISD’s vision for a digital ecosystem to support the district’s 215,000 students and 30,000 employees.

“Student information systems are the hardest systems in school to replace,” as most school CIOs know, Schad said in an interview with EdScoop during the Consortium for School Networking conference .

The new SIS, from Infinite Campus, replaces an aging Chancery SMS system, deployed in 2005, and which was later integrated with a Gradespeed grade book system, according to a Houston ISD request for proposal . But as the district moved to newer, more robust digital platforms, the SIS was increasingly weighing down the district’s efforts to move ahead.

“We have this new learning management system, we have a new finance system, we have a new data warehouse; what we didn’t want to do is bring in a traditional student information system and do [the integration] work like we did 10 years ago,” he said.

Schad, who has served as Houston ISD’s chief information technology officer since 2013, said his department spent a significant amount of time gathering input from a group “made up of about 150 people visioning what our new data ecosystem should look like . Then we went out into the market to see what vendors can could fit into our ecosystem and our vision,” he said.

The SIS is one of four major initiatives underway at HISD, according to Schad. In an exclusive EdScoop interview, Schad highlighted those initiatives, including the district’s “Power Up” plan to put laptops in the hands of every high school student and plans to continue improving infrastructure support for the district’s learning object repository, which currently holds more than 2 million learning objects.

View more of EdScoop’s interviews with innovative school CIOs.

Schad also provided details on the district’s plans to strengthen data privacy, in line with a new toolkit from CoSN to help schools improve data privacy and security. Schad currently serves on CoSN’s board.

And he highlighted the districts’ continuing efforts to move its IT operations to the cloud.

“The days of buying servers and buying memory and SAN computing” are disappearing, he said. “It is very expensive and it’s a cost that never goes away. You’re always adding space and you’re always having to replace hardware,” he said.

Putting infrastructure into the cloud also addresses concerns about disaster recovery — which remains a real issue in flood-prone Houston — and represents millions of dollars in long-term savings, he said.

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