Transition from PowerSchool to Aspen not without bumps

CHECKING GRADES. Seventh grade student Ezra Smith-
Howard looks up his grades on Aspen. Some students and
teachers were unhappy with the change from PowerSchool to
Aspen.

Maggie Dunworth

CHECKING GRADES. Seventh grade student Ezra Smith- Howard looks up his grades on Aspen. Some students and teachers were unhappy with the change from PowerSchool to Aspen.

Maggie Dunworth, Staff Writer

Kingsport City Schools recently transitioned from the PowerSchool student information system to Aspen. For some, this was an easy and welcome change. For others, it was not so simple.

Lynna Bingham is an 8th grade history teacher. In addition, she is the lead mentor for new teachers, a technology leader and a co-sponsor for the “Leader Ambassador” student program.

She felt that PowerSchool was easy to use and visually appealing.

“Students and teachers alike could find and use the program with many less clicks,” she said. “At this point in the year, since students and parents have access, and the grade pass-back is finally working, I would stick with Aspen.”

Bingham understands that decisions have to be made on switching programs and thinks that the timing of the change was a part of the whole issue. She thinks that if COVID-19 wasn’t happening along with the switch, things would have been a lot better.

Kris Markl is a Spanish teacher who misses the days of PowerSchool. He feels that Aspen is a “step backwards in terms of functionality and user friendliness.”

“I thought that PowerSchool was one of the most user friendly pieces of software that I have ever used,” he said. “It was extremely easy to use and required little to no training to access and utilize all of its features.”

Markl also believes that a lack of staff training and student knowledge of Aspen contributes to its complicated nature.

“I have yet to discover any positive features of Aspen, other than the fact that its name makes me dream of a nice vacation to Colorado,” Markl said. “Then again, I don’t know how to ski. The least useful features include the over-complicated process of entering grades, attendance and unnecessary and extemporaneous data that no one needs.”

Becky Clark is Kingsport City Schools’ Coordinator of Student Information Services. According to her, Aspen had to go through a complicated process to be approved.

“The school system put out a Request for Proposal, or RFP,” she said. “Kingsport City Schools designed rubrics to evaluate all vendor submissions and included multiple committees composed of various user groups to evaluate each vendor separately based on each committee’s individualized rubrics.”

The biggest problem in bringing Aspen to Kingsport City Schools may have been the pandemic.

“If COVID-19 wasn’t happening simultaneously, the transition to Aspen would have been easier,” Bingham said. “However, with all of the classroom changes that happened this year due to COVID- 19, it made for a perfect storm of frustration.”

It took several months for students and parents to receive login information to Aspen.

“It added so much more work on teachers because parents couldn’t see students’ grades and students could not see their own grades, so there were a lot more emails sent back and forth asking questions about grades, and having to grade in Canvas and then transfer those to Aspen took double the time for teachers,” Bingham said.

Markl agreed.

“[At the beginning of the year] most students didn’t even know what Aspen is,” he said.

In the end, the contract with PowerSchool was up, and Kingsport City Schools decided to go in a different direction.

“If my suspicions are correct and the move was made for budgetary purposes, then I understand but respectfully disagree,” Markl said. “PowerSchool was perhaps the most essential program or investment for KCS teachers and cuts should have been made in other areas.”

As far as students are concerned, Bingham has noticed some improvements.

“I think the fact that students and parents have their login information, it does work as well for them as PowerSchool,” she said. “It takes some getting used to, but once used for a little while, it does work as well.”

Although the transition from PowerSchool to Aspen has been difficult for many teachers and students, it seems the program is here to stay. Perhaps in time, everyone will be as comfortable with Aspen as they were with PowerSchool.

“Any new product needs time for all of its customers to become familiar and engage with the platform,” Clark said.

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