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Case Study

How Somerset Academies of Texas Consolidated Software Systems and Gained More Value from Professional Learning

Somerset Academies of Texas switched to Frontline solutions, leading to substantial savings and more effective professional learning across the district. Here is how they are promoting teacher collaboration, making better decisions around the learning activities they offer, and getting the most out of the learning that teachers engage in.

Somerset Academies of Texas Hero Image

When Austin Morgenroth first came to Somerset Academies of Texas, he saw a scattering of different software systems being used for human resources, operations, special education, professional learning, and teacher evaluations. “They were a growing district, but they did not have a lot of streamlined processes. There were systems everywhere, and we were looking to integrate everything into fewer solutions.”

The growing open enrollment charter school district offers a wide range of educational opportunities to students in the San Antonio area, including early college high schools, STEM curriculum, and a Career & Technical Education (CTE) program. Yet for all the ways in which the forward-thinking district excelled, it relied on software that, Austin says, “was piecemealed together through a few different systems, so things were getting dropped.”

As Director of Technology Services & Communications, Austin oversees technology in the district, and is also over Business Services, Human Resources, and technology integrations with the Curriculum, Instruction, & Accountability department. Austin highlights the teacher evaluation process as one that was hampered by having to use multiple systems: “There was a piece where you would go and schedule your evaluation, there was a piece where you would fill out your pre-evaluation form, and then the post-conference. There were about two or three systems that people were using to accomplish that one task, and we wanted to get intentional about having one system that did all those things.”

The Solution: Frontline

Somerset Academies had already been a user of Frontline Special Programs Management (formerly known as eSped) for many years, and as the team researched options, they decided to bring more operations under the Frontline umbrella. “A lot of other districts have used Frontline and recommended the software,” says Austin. He appreciates that Frontline is expanding the ways it supports school districts, and the support Frontline offers gives him peace of mind that implementation will go well. “We have traditionally had positive interactions with the support team as well as with our account executives, and that has continued throughout our implementations of new software packages.”

By consolidating software systems and purchasing them all from one vendor, Austin says the district was also able to save time and money. “The mixture of two or three softwares that we had — the time and attendance management piece, and the human resources documentation, all our HR files — that was $100,000 in software packages alone. We have significantly reduced people’s time and effort, so they are able to focus that on other projects,” he says, noting that the district has saved more than half of that cost by moving to Frontline.

Austin Morgenroth Photo

“Every time that we went out for an RFP or to look for companies and Frontline was part of it, as a technology leader I have made the decision primarily to go with [Frontline], not only because of the cost savings, but because of the level of support in the system setup and integration into what we have already.”

Austin Morgenroth
– Director of Technology Services and Communications

Bringing Systems Together

In addition to managing the IEP, ELL, and Gifted & Talented programs with Frontline, Somerset Academies began using Frontline Absence & Time to track employee attendance and hours worked, simplify the payroll process, and find substitutes to fill absences. They added Frontline Inventory & Help Desk Management to track devices and streamline tech support and are implementing Frontline Central to house employee files and improve the onboarding experience. They also use Frontline Professional Growth to manage professional learning and employee evaluations.

When employees are added to Frontline, their profiles populate across all systems. “From an administrative standpoint, it makes it a lot easier to set up employees. We do not have to type in the same information over and over,” Austin says.

Employees also find Frontline easier to use. “In our old systems, they had to log in four or five separate places to get one thing. Here, they log into one system and it is all right there.” Because Frontline software has a similar look and feel across the different solutions, they can get up and running faster. “Once you train on one, they pick up on the other ones a lot quicker. That is what has been really nice: the onboarding of an employee and pushing it out and having them start with the software is pretty quick.”

Frontline Professional Growth in Action

A Simpler Evaluation Process

When Somerset Academies began using Frontline Professional Growth, the district initially focused on one part of the solution, Employee Evaluation Management, to support their Texas Teacher Evaluation & Support System (T-TESS) appraisals. This provides the ability to create custom evaluation workflows for certified and classified staff, tag observed teaching practices to specific dimensions on the T-TESS rubric, and calculate summative scores to report to the state. Most importantly, it fosters post-observation conversations focused on growth. Austin is pleased that administrators are actively using the system: “We have seen a lot of success in that, and not only tracking our teachers and where they are at and storing that data, but the fidelity and use of it. People are going in and using it.”

Teachers Teach Teachers

The district then incorporated Professional Learning Management — also part of Frontline Professional Growth — to manage and track professional learning. Somerset Academies offers a wide array of learning opportunities ranging from in-district offerings to external conferences, collaborations with Doral College, and online modules in Frontline’s Learning & Collaboration Resources.

Housing professional learning resources in one location makes it easier for teachers and staff to share their knowledge and resources with one another and gives Austin confidence that expertise and institutional knowledge will outlast any individual teacher. “We are excited about having our teachers teach other teachers. We have struggled with that in the past, having our faculty teach their peers and share that information. This has allowed us to do it, all in one place,” he says. Now, those shared resources will no longer disappear off a shared drive when a teacher leaves the district.

Austin says that when the district began using Frontline, he began to see much more interaction between teachers at different schools. “We have seen a fruition of faculty and staff coming together that are just more excited about working with one another. And the software does not do that, but the software facilitates that. That is what has really helped us have fidelity with carrying that out.”

This is especially visible when teachers come together from across the district for workshops. In the past, teachers would typically sit with others from their building. Now, math teachers gather with other math teachers at various grade levels, and younger teachers seek out veteran teachers to learn from. “Our Pre-K through 12 buildings have a lot more interaction with one another to share ideas on what is working inside their classrooms or what new ideas there are or how they can prepare students for post-K12.”

“You might have one school that is really strong in math and the others are not as strong. I think Frontline has been helpful in bringing those people together in one space. They can share those resources and they are more interconnected.”

Austin Morgenroth
– Director of Technology Services and Communications

Fostering District-wide Professional Development

Because Texas does not require schools to track profession learning hours for certification renewals, Austin says many schools struggled to keep data in one place. “It had been tried so many times before. When it comes to tracking or sharing, we always missed the mark on it because it was never consistent.”

As a result, schools often did not see as much value from the professional learning that teachers pursued. When the district paid to send someone to a conference, that teacher would often share what they learned with others in their building, but the rest of the district had no opportunity to learn as well. Now, teachers can add resources to the online PD catalog in Frontline, access discussion boards and collaborate with one another online, and district leadership can easily see who has engaged in various learning opportunities. For example, they can now track who attends certain CTE conferences that are focused on a specific profession. When the time comes to build course calendars and master schedules, they can tap into that expertise.

“A lot of schools really struggled with keeping that data in one place, and we did, too, for a long time. Now that we know that, we have put together these pockets of people that have gone through certain modules, that have excelled at certain things. We can then go back and connect them with first year teachers or other people.”

“We are really collaborative here. We have a lot of shared faculty across schools. It reduces the cost associated with sending someone to a conference, and it allows the resources or whatever they put together to live beyond their tenure with us.”

Austin Morgenroth
– Director of Technology Services and Communications

Professional Learning Based on Evaluation Results

As teachers go through the T-TESS appraisal process, anytime someone scores a 3 or below in a particular domain, administrators assign professional learning to foster growth in that area. That might mean connecting them with another teacher, or it could be assigning a course in Learning & Collaboration Resources.

“Our instructional coaches know the learning styles of their teachers. Sometimes that may mean they make a note in there: ‘I need to connect them with so-and-so who has experience doing this.’ Sometimes the teacher does well with the online modules, so we can assign them an online module right as we are doing their evaluation and put a deadline on it, then follow up with them and say, ‘What did you learn from that module?’”

In these cases, the teacher will write a one-sentence objective for growth. If only 25% of students received differentiated instruction, they may have a goal of 50% by the time their next appraisal is completed. “We look at that past evaluation, then we go the new one and say, ‘Did they do any work between them to try to accomplish that goal?’ And then we do their evaluation,” Austin says. “Most of the time, we see that in that period that they took some kind of course that we offered internally or through the online videos or modules.”

Austin notes that teachers who actively seek to grow by engaging in professional learning typically see results, which is not the case for those who do not.

Encouraging Teachers to Engage in PD

As in any district, teachers in Somerset Academies have much to do. Professional learning is often done on top of a regular workday, so the district tries to make it easy for teachers to complete. With Frontline, it is simple for teachers to browse a catalog of learning opportunities and sign up for activities — all by logging into one system, not five or six.

“They can see the trainings that are self-paced that they can do online. They see what has been assigned to them. They have group discussions that they can go into, and then they also are able to see the professional development matrix, the calendar that we have throughout the year, and they can enroll themselves in courses. And then, of course, we have the option to post our resources or discussion there and take attendance to track all of that.”

Tracking Effectiveness

Because Somerset Academies keeps all professional learning data in one place, they can track the effectiveness of learning that is offered. Every PD activity or module is assigned to specific T-TESS domains. If the district sees little growth in one domain, they know to examine those activities and consider how they might improve the professional learning offered.

Similarly, if teachers in a school constantly choose learning activities tagged to certain domain, it could indicate that the school needs to address that area proactively. Austin explains, “We can see, is there an area where teachers are requesting more training in this particular domain? Are the trainings that we have in those domains effective? If they are taking [PD activities tagged to] Domain 2, but we are not seeing that most of those people in Domain 2 saw growth within their next evaluation cycle, then we know that our resources in Domain 2 were not effective, or they were not targeting what they needed.”

Looking to the future, teachers and staff at Somerset Academies now have access to a robust catalog of professional learning that will continue to grow. Administrators have the tools they need to ensure the right learning is offered to the right people, and expertise will no longer fall into a black hole if a staff member retires or leaves the district. Austin says, “It leaves the legacy of our professional learning and the resources that people from our teams have brought together in one place that is easily accessible.”