Prince William County Public Schools Finds a Fast Fix to Manage Its Robust School Choice Program
Second-largest school division in Virginia
Enrollment: 92,000 students
Operates 95 schools and programs
Employs 11,000 staff and teachers
Scribbles solutions used: ScribOrder, ScribTransfer, ScribChoice, ScribOnline, ScribForms
When Prince William County Public Schools was in a tight spot with no secure student database to operate their school choice program, something had to change, fast. Serving the district’s mission of “providing a world-class education”, the choice program at PWCPS proudly receives thousands of applications per year. Managing the robust choice system, Karima Wesselhoft, Supervisor of Advanced Academics and Specialty Programs, knew there had to be a better way than Microsoft or Google Forms to tackle the problem. We sat down with Karima to find out how Scribbles’ choice platform became the district’s beloved, secure solution.
What can you tell us about your district?
Karima: Prince William County Public Schools is in Northern Virginia, just outside of DC. Our demographics vary from our east to our west sides. We have affluent schools and some that are certainly not. We have over 90,000 students in almost a hundred schools.
What's your job?
KW: I run the advanced academics [programs]. That's our AP, IB, Cambridge and dual-enrollment programs, as well as specialty programs and school choice or charter programs.
Tell us a little bit more about these specialty programs that you manage and run.
KW: I run our specialty programs in conjunction with our career and technical education department. We have a lot of vocational techs, such as law, public safety, culinary, and aviation maintenance, in addition to the usual academic classes. We have around 28 programs now and CTE oversees the vast majority of them. My role is to oversee the entire application process for all of them.
Do you use ScribChoice for any of these programs?
KW: Oh, yes. We use it for all of them. When I came in a few years ago, the process for everything was really confusing, but with Scribbles it got a lot easier, fast.
What made you change the process you had?
KW: The push to change came out of a mishap last year. We had a database that our IT department created where students put in their student number and it would pop up the schools they're zoned for, along with what they could apply for. Unfortunately that database wasn't secure and we couldn't guarantee the privacy of the information that was in it. At the time, we thought we might get an extra year with the database before it was shut down, but then we heard the district was going to do shut it down in two weeks, so we had to move fast.
My first move was to create a Google Form or Microsoft Office Form for the families, but I knew right away that it wasn't sustainable given the number of kids and applications we had. There's no way that we could accurately do that work. So we looked around and I found Scribbles. Thankfully, you guys had a lot of things that really worked for us. One of the biggest issues was student information security. We can't compromise our data, being this close to the federal government and the military, so that was the very first thing we looked for.
Tell us a little bit more about why you selected Scribbles.
KW: As soon as I reached out to Scribbles to discuss some of the issues we were having, your team said, "Okay, great, let's set up a demonstration." As we went through that, we realized that we were also using some of your other services in another part of our division. Scribbles already handles our records and student enrollment. So adding onto the services we were already using with you made total sense. Our families would also be familiar with some of the processes in the application. What I really liked is [Scribbles] is the only solution that I found that could hold the nuances of our programs. And the ability to upload documents, the ability to always access those uploading of documents, and the price is great, especially because I have a very, very small budget.
How did using ScribChoice change the way your process worked?
KW: It really made our work a lot easier. We were able to focus on the way we process our data and our information with ScribChoice. What makes this so easy is that I can see every kid in the division and what they're doing, when and what they applied for, where they applied for what choice, and so on. I can watch that process in real-time. I can also share that information with the coordinator on the school level to help them make decisions in real-time. It makes the process for accepting kids so much easier.
What do your families think? How have they reacted to the new process?
KW: We did a lot of work with our families. We ended up doing a very robust social media campaign to keep everybody informed. We hold at least two information sessions a year. That's when we show families the new program. It also gives us a chance to assist them with the nuances of the program. During the last two weeks before we closed our applications, we held information sessions by Zoom. We said, "if you need help filling out an application, come join us." And so we had families jump into our Zoom and we helped them one at a time. We would walk a family through and share the screen for each part of ScribChoice.
How about your internal stakeholders?
KW: I'm very lucky that my stakeholders trust me and they're on board 100%. We did some really good training with them. We offered them the same one-on-one support that we gave to our families. We hold office hours with them all the time anyway to let them know what's coming up next. Our coordinators and our stakeholders are used to getting in touch with us anytime they want, and they really enjoy knowing what's going on. The feedback that I consistently got is that this is so much easier than what we've been doing before. We were able to put in a process that was so easy for them to use, it's very user-friendly and it was nice and fast. Now I know how to approve and pull transcripts and do all those things really fast also.
What would you say to others that are thinking of moving to a Scribbles product, and who might have an investment in a system they've been using for a long time? Why should they consider switching?
KW: If you're on the fence, there are a lot of good reasons to switch. First, you have excellent record keeping. Nothing is lost. It always exists there. A program like ScribChoice creates a really good set of reports that show you every transaction. I can check on every kid and see where they are, what they're applying for, and where they're going to go in the next term. In the end, these programs are just the best way to serve the kids in our district, and it doesn't take much time at all to learn and adopt.
Is there anything else that you'd like to share?
KW: The support we get from Scribbles is constant. My developer taught me how to make the most of the system, and we still text all the time. It's great because we know we're never alone. I really appreciate that, and we have grown to really love it. We talk about you guys fondly all the time.
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