Interview | The Integrity of Schools According to Dave Moravec

Dave Moravec is the president of Integrity Schools, a company that, at its core, is composed of individuals committed to the consultative approach to data integration. They serve three specific and distinct types of clients: At their roots, they have served K-12 educational software vendors with Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) agent development going back to 2002-2003. Most importantly, they continue to provide K-12 LEA’s (Local Education Authorities) with data integration solutions that are focused primarily on the SIF specification and solution. Integrity Schools is excited about their latest K-12 data warehouse and decision support solution—the Achievement Gateway. They’ve developed and provided this solution for school districts that have from 5,000 to 50,000 students, and the product reviews have been terrific so far.

Victor: Why did you create Integrity Schools?

Dave: Integrity Schools split off from Integrity Technology Solutions in October 2008 in an effort to focus our team’s effort on our school solutions. Up to that point, we not only served the K-12 market-space, but also commercial clients. Integrity Schools is a recognized leader with the SIF Association and we have leveraged our position to keep current with data standards nationally. As far as the company is concerned, Harlan Geiser is the owner/CEO and he formed the company back in 1993. Prior to my arrival at Integrity in 2004, we served schools with data networking solutions and began our business intelligent solutions. My role was to take the company to a national audience and as president, I continue to forge that effort.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Dave: Integrity is among the most important business terms a company can be associated with. We took Integrity and added Schools because that is who we ultimately serve. While we also have Education Software vendor clients and partners, our Vision Statement is “To help schools improve teaching, learning and operations by providing interoperable solutions.” We do so by using open, standards-based technologies.

Victor: What does the Achievement Gateway do? What are its benefits?

Dave: The Achievement Gateway is a unique solution providing a myriad of data in an easy to use format to the desktop of administrators and teachers. It is different from a traditional Student information system and does not replace the SIS, but rather it leverages the data available for longitudinal examination. The Gateway looks at assessments, attendance, grades, schedules, and a host of other data to help teachers & administrators make quality decisions about individual learning and lesson plans for students. Teachers have constantly asked for more detailed analysis of student data, our solution makes it easy for them to have it readily available.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Dave: Our solution is different from most products in our market space for a couple of reasons. First, we can leverage SIF technology to provide near real-time access to the data. Students, their schedules, teachers, and classes all change dynamically throughout the day. Staying on top of those changes is crucial. The SIF specification and data model have been instrumental in making our solution function efficiently. Secondly, research for our development was done by and for administrators and teachers. They dictated what they wanted to see and where they wanted to see it on the screen. We continue to gain valuable feedback from teachers that use it each day. The Gateway can also be customized to reflect difference in the data that may be available between differing districts.

Finally, the initial results are in and the answer is, “It has helped our students.” That is the single reason I come to work each day. I know that we are making a difference in the lives of children and helping them through this tool to achieve their own success. I believe students want to learn and teachers want to teach. If we can give teachers a tool that they want—delivered to their desktop or through the web interface securely after hours to their home—and it helps their students perform better, then how cool is that? One administrator recently sent me an email, it said: “In my 22nd year as an elementary administrator, Achievement Gateway is the single most functional and meaningful tool ever used.”

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Dave: The solution has a two-year development history and is in its first full year of marketing. We wanted to be sure that it met the needs of our end users and that the “kinks” were worked out before bringing it to market nationally. We believe that we have done just that and then some. The most challenging part of the process is identifying what the district’s data needs are and where the data will come from. Interfaces to the data warehouse allow for access to the data; the SIF zone integration server & our data warehouse agent populate much of that data. However, many school districts/systems today still are unsure of where the data resides currently. We work closely with each client to make sure that we meet all expectations and that no surprises come when we roll the solution out to pilot buildings or groups. One particularly interesting part of the initial development came when other teachers got involved in evaluating the initial design. The excitement built as individual teachers provided feedback and suggestions that ultimately were incorporated; there was truly a sense of ownership.

Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now?

Dave: The solution emerged from a community process and a team called the Achievement Gap Task force. Bloomington-Normal (IL) schools came together with a grant from State Farm Insurance in the hopes of finding a way to improve student success in our community. From the initial conversations, several subcommittees were formed, one of which focused on technology. Integrity Schools became the development source because of our longstanding relationship with the school districts and our expertise with the SIF data model. Integrity Schools does not currently license the product through any third party sources so purchases must come directly through our company.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Dave: The cost of the Achievement Gateway varies depending on the size of the district and the amount of data that a district is looking to report on. There are other variable that come into play including, is SIF going to be involved or is that infrastructure in place already? What student information system is going to be incorporated? Has hardware been purchased and will the solution be housed internally by the district or are they looking for a hosted solution? The value of the solution is far more important than the cost.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Dave: One great example that can be shared briefly is that one client had a paper process in place that communicated special education needs of individual student to each of their respective teachers. This “process” oftentimes took days or weeks to make sure that all teachers and administrators had access to the student IEP or 504 learning plans. With our solution, that process has been automated and auditing procedures have been included. This assures that student’s accommodations are provided quickly and the students benefit from that as early as the first day of school. Additionally, those teachers who are not compliant are easily identified and while not reprimanded, at least follow through can take place to insure compliancy.

District clients also use the Gateway during parent-teacher conferences, another example of a real day-to-day use.  In the past, teachers relied upon copying grade books or paper processes to show parents where their students were excelling or where they were deficient. With the student profile portion of our solution, teachers can take a 2010 approach with parents and increase communication about the student’s level of performance.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Dave: The Achievement Gateway is available for districts of varying size. However, we have found that districts larger than 2500 are looking to house the solution internally on their own network, while smaller districts are looking for a hosted solution in the hopes of reducing their upfront investment component. While we believe that the Achievement Gateway will scale well for larger districts, we do not have any school district clients that are extremely large like Chicago Public or LA Unified.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Dave: I personally have three children in school, two in college and one finishing high school. I have been able to see first-hand for the last 17 years what kind of education our kids are getting. Our public school system today does more with less money than any commercial business that I can think of.  We are asking teachers to provide for their classrooms from their own resources and still give them increasing class sizes with less instructional time. Technology budgets are being axed which affects the ability of teachers and instructional staffs to keep up with the technology kids have at home. I have heard stories of students being able to bring their own family laptop or PDA into school to supplement the school district technology. While I believe this can be a short-term solution, in the end it only puts a finger in the dike.

President Obama was asked on the Today Show whether his two children would get the quality education in the DC public school system that they get in their exclusive private school. I agree with his response which was, “In some buildings they would get a terrific education; there are great schools in every school district, even in Chicago or Washington D.C.” He went on to conclude that, that is not the case in every school throughout a district. Until we can provide quality education that is equally funded across a state or nation, we will still have the disparity we have today. In some states, inefficiencies exist or state funding falls short in meeting needs for all students. In some districts waste exists that is so incredible, that another district could survive on the extras if they were just filtered their direction. As an example here in Illinois, how can it be that one public school is funded to the tune of $20K per student, while others are funded at a third of that amount?

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Integrity Schools?

Dave: I graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1984 and while I had hoped to become a teacher after graduation, I end up in business instead. As a student, I had teachers over the years that took a special interest in me and the schools that I attended were well funded and higher than average on the achievement scale. However, over the last 6 years, I have been able to witness through onsite visits to buildings across the country that there are many schools that fall short, are underfunded and many that would like to have easy access to better data about students.

One other quick example of my passion is that at one point in my children’s education (about 12 years ago), my wife and I decided that we wanted to see what kind of education they were getting. Not only were we both active within their schools (volunteering, mentoring, PTA, fundraising, etc.) but we both certified as substitute teachers across the district. This allowed us to not only see the curriculum being taught, but also allowed for interaction within other buildings, other teachers, principals and resources. It was a great experience and we have kept friendships with those teachers over the years. Now that our product is available commercially, my hope is that I can share this story and passion with others so that they may also see the benefit for their students.

Victor: How does Integrity Schools address some of your concerns about education?

Dave: We believe that the SIF technology and standard is an efficient and automated way to move data and cut costs. With reduced cost come efficiencies that fund other parts of education. In simple terms, I have spoke about ROI (Return on Investment) at national conferences including the NCES Data conferences. If there are district savings available through data integration, it seems to me that more districts should be looking at it as a way to help students. Additionally, our Achievement Gateway solution allows teachers to see data that they did not have easy access to before and allow for a more individualized learning plan. Teachers can match students with specific needs to students that have particular strengths. This can create more effective classroom environments and can raise the bar for education in those classrooms. As you can tell, I am proud of what we have accomplished so far and excited about where we are heading.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Dave: I am optimistic provided we take care of a couple of major hurdles that were mentioned earlier. The funding crisis must be addressed and we need to find a way to incent quality teachers. Teaching to the “test” appears to be commonplace given the rules/regulations surrounding the NCLB requirements. We are getting beat in many parts of the world in the area of education, and yet we are constantly barraged by foreign students looking to study at our Universities…is our education system that bad? I truly don’t think so.

One other area that I haven’t spoken to and as long as you’ve asked the question, I’ll speak up about it, and that is parent involvement. Many of the schools that are below the grade are in areas of the country where parent involvement is missing and where families are struggling. Single parents that are working have less time to be involved in their student’s lives. Households that have two parents working long hours to make ends meet seem to pass in the night (or on the way to a soccer game). I am not just talking about poverty-stricken areas, but it crosses rural, urban and suburban district environments. While I may not be able to sit and do Algebra with my daughter, I can see her performance through online tools and ask her about it at dinner can’t I? Oh wait, that means we’d have to eat together as a family…I hear that so often…”Who’s got the time?” If we as parents do not take the time to encourage our kids, are we to expect that others will do it for us? I personally don’t think so.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Integrity Schools and the Achievement Gateway? What makes you say that?

Dave: We are a small company with a core set of values. We treat the customer with respect and value every relationship. What value can you place on providing teachers with current information about their students? We think this is crucial in making quality data driven decisions.

We provide a list of references and welcome new prospective clients to talk with them directly. I have said that I don’t think we will ever be the biggest (given that Pearson had a head start on us) but that we aim to be the best at what we do. We continually receive referrals and hope to grow because of the reputation for excellent service that that we have built. While we began our national campaign just six short years ago, we are now present in 10 different states. I serve on the Executive Board of Directors of the SIF Association, which keeps me close to what the vendors and market are saying nationally. We hope others continue to look in our direction.

___

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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One Response to Interview | The Integrity of Schools According to Dave Moravec

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