PHOENIX SERIES | PART 1
Driving the Rebirth of MUSD
Interview with Accountability and Communications Team Members Babatunde Ilori, Executive Director, Adrian Oceguera and Jeremiah Sturgill, Software Developers.
By Frédéric Martin, Editor-in-Chief
Until mid-March 2020, teaching meant students interacting with teachers in classrooms. The pandemic added “in-person/remote learning”, and “social distancing” to our new shared vocabulary. The pandemic has brought many challenges to the students, teachers, staff, and school administrators, some of which remain. As schools finally reopened for in-person learning, after many months of distance learning and severely limited school activities, the district decided to upgrade and streamline internal processes to better serve our community, improve efficiency, and allow for timely access to meaningful data that help our students and their families.
While the virus has infected a daily average of thirty-eight Madera County residents, ever since the first COVID-19 death was identified on March 26, 2020, the new disease has killed one of our neighbors every 48 hours. By underscoring our reliance on our shared infrastructure and daily human connections, the pandemic has exposed their fundamental fragility. The faint light of the pandemic’s end, profiling at the distant horizon, gives us the hope and incentive to rebuild and shore up the systems we now understand must be more reliable and filled with new, enriching purpose. The lumbering mythical phoenix bird’s old feathers were frayed and needed shedding, and once purified by fire, the immortal animal came out renewed and reinvigorated with refreshed purpose.
The complex math of COVID-19 contact tracing is a demanding endeavor that would not be feasible if done manually. The simple transfer of the collected data gathered at the school entrance, from handwritten notes and on-the-fly spreadsheets, would take too long to compile for the time-sensitive data to stay relevant for efficient contact tracing. The individual infections and related information must be gathered and centrally computed in close to real-time, so immediate understanding and resulting enforcement of their mitigating actions can be consequentially implemented to effectively reduce the spread of the virus that can occur in the close classroom environment.
In that context, the school district defines “contact” as someone who has spent 15 minutes (cumulative per day) or more time within 6 feet or less of an individual who was COVID-19 symptomatic. Once someone has been identified as COVID-19 symptomatic, the school district team identifies the students and teachers who are known to have been in contact with that individual and the system publishes activities and actions the MUSD Health Department has established as warranted, depending on the vaccination status of the student who was exposed to the disease.
To automate its COVID-19 infections alert and contact tracing system, the Madera Unified School District has designed and implemented a solution using SalesForce, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) system, to improve and automate communications, reduce workload overhead, and publish actionable data to better serve the school district community members: students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. Effective management of the COVID-19 epidemic requires almost real-time access to time-sensitive, critical information to help mitigate its effects: infection notifications, contact tracing, alerting students, parents, teachers, and the administration. When a student has been identified as COVID-19 positive and the information is entered into the salesforce.com platform, automation takes over and sends out customized emails to the student’s parent or guardian on record, in the preferred language associated with the guardian, featuring the details of the issue, corresponding health and mitigation recommendations, including the quarantine duration and return to class date. The teacher and administration are also simultaneously informed. School sites administrators have access to their own site’s dashboard, which displays almost real-time data on the COVID-19 status, as information is input every day from all the MUSD sites. The data is also shared through a custom email notification software platform to district leaders, union partners, and other entities.
The email automation and central computing aspect of the process deliver new benefits that would not be possible without the SalesForce CRM. As COVID-19 infections data are uploaded from the school sites into the database, leadership can easily refresh their CRM dashboard and get a global view of the district-wide situation, while being able to drill down to any specific school site, based on their user access privileges. Other processes also access the system and fulfill tasks that would be manually impossible or demand countless hours of work while the CRM can implement them almost instantaneously. Automation of compliance is also enforced through the CRM which automates, audits, and informs the concerned parties of scheduled activities related to the compliance.
In this automation environment, certain fields of data are automatically inserted into the communications generated by the CRM to their intended recipients. The populated fields include the school site and room number, date/time stamp of the data entry, recipient’s language preference, school contact and phone number, length of quarantine, suggested return date for in-person learning. Every single site leader has implemented COVID-19 monitoring into the salesforce.com system, delivering a new level of data visibility that was simply impossible to produce before the development work was put in place.
The overall school district data are gathered and used to update the community on the latest status of the school district’s COVID-19 infections and associated trends in a weekly newsletter. Madera Unified is currently working with the Madera County Department of Public health to further streamline the contact tracing process with the goal to have the public health department utilize the salesforce system to complete the entire contact tracing process for the district.
During the MUSD strategic academic planning process, all school leaders and teacher leads were brought in to figure out ways to improve schools and suggest automation development projects that will benefit students and teachers. The SalesForce CRM platform will be leveraged for many more activities, including student achievement work, to help with student college and career readiness, by automating the monitoring of data acquisition and computation, for example, to root out and surface the opportunities or issues that must be addressed to improve notifications for counselors, to suggest tasks related to the multiple data points that benefit their students’ specific requirements, college, and career choices. One of the core benefits of the use of this system will soon enable current schoolwork dashboard and detailed drill downs, without which the monitoring and appropriate management of the responses would be delayed and unmanageable. MUSD Accountability & Communications Executive Director, Babatunde Ilori refers to the solution as a one-touch system that once, implemented, will deliver a full automation solution with actionable data fed into communications that are sent out to their appropriate recipients.