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Dashboard keeps Looney in the drivers seat

Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney operates the WCS Dashboard – engineered by the district IT department – containing over one hundred data points of “real-time” district information with just a few clicks of a mouse. Instead of bring his own technology, Looney is creating it.


It is hard to follow the work of Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney without noticing that he has become quite an avid Tweeter since the full implementation of the WCS Bring Your Own Technology initiative last year. 

This superintendent, who prides himself for his accessibility, says his favorite on-the-go digital devices are his Dell XSP laptop and ipad.

However, in the true spirit of BYOT, instead of bringing his own technology, Looney is creating it.

For the last three years, WCS technology department gurus have given reality to Looney’s vision to create a specially engineered system called—WCS Dashboard.

By some accounts, it is fast becoming the envy of many superintendents and districts across the region. 

“This is the idea generation,” Looney said. “I think of it, and they make it happen.” At any given “real-time” moment, Looney clicks an icon on an oversized monitor—one of about a hundred data points on the ‘WCS Dashboard.’
This click could tell him if a new student has enrolled, if a teacher is sick, if a student failed a class or if there is a disturbance at a school. He has at his disposal three large monitors, one that displays dashboard icons, one for surveillance and another for desktop work. 

There is no doubt that Looney’s desk on the second floor of the Williamson County Administrative Building is WCS mission control.
Some have even tried to hire away the masterminds behind the project including Tim McNeese, director of technology. “I’ve never done a dashboard like that until now,” McNeese said. “It connects many different sources of information and programs into one place.” 

Only a mouse click away, real-time data and live video surveillance feeds set the system apart from other methods of accessing information about the district. 
Gone are the days of time spent running multiple, lengthy reports or laboriously cross-referencing information. “The dashboard saves the district a lot of time during the day because in a second the information is a click away for Dr. Looney,” WCS Communications Director Carol Birdsong explained. 

“I use it every day,” Looney said. “The data used to be in pockets, now it’s in one place. 

“I think of something new to add to it every day. We probably add a button a month.” 

Labor to add a new button or data point can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days, McNeese said. 

Each click “drills” deeper into the inner workings of the District—a swiftly moving sea of statistics and numbers that can be assessed to find trends, discrepancies and patterns.
“We call it drilling down,” Looney said. “It allows us to be proactive instead of putting out fires. We can react with more specific data.” 

The Superintendent can monitor grades, building utilities and has safety surveillance monitors in schools to ensure learning is not being disrupted. Inclement weather or a threat to safety at any school can be spotted instantly.

“I know where kids are academically at any point in time and if they are failing Algebra, and (then) we can work on supports.”

Even live feeds from the inside of school buildings sync with Williamson County patrol cars equipped with ipads that allow law enforcement officers to respond and immediately follow up on any reports of violence or crime at schools. 

Although no cameras are installed in individual classrooms, unless the teacher is notified or unless there is a need, Looney said, some classrooms such as ALC and the two self-contained special education classrooms implemented last school year, are equipped with cameras for closer monitoring.
Sometimes it is the unanticipated information that provides the most useful benefit, Looney said. When he noticed that the water bill at Spring Hill Elementary was unusually high further investigation determined that a leak in a pipe was to blame. It was fixed immediately.

“If it had not been for the ‘Dashboard,’ it might have taken years to discover,” Looney said.

The Superintendent also tracks the student failure list in order to provide intervention for students. 

An example of a few data points that Looney has at a finger’s touch include the following:

- 33,908 students enrolled in WCS, Pre-K-12

- 2,040 discipline reports last year

- 27,932 library books were checked out in elementary schools last year

Trends that he has pinpointed include that there has been a significant reduction in teachers absent for illness since the Williamson County Education Association partnership in teacher incentives and an increase in schools participating in professional development opportunities. 
Looney said that data constantly changes and that work on the WCS ‘Dashboard’ is ongoing.

“We need real time information to make informed decisions. The stakes are too high to rely on intuition or old data.” 

Posted on: 8/28/2013


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