School board approves more money for student data system

Bayfield and Durango school officials have been working for more than a year on a student data tracking system called School Vault to fill a need not being addressed by commercially available computer programs.

The Bayfield School Board approved an additional $20,000 Tuesday night for continued program development, bringing the district's total contribution to $70,000.

Bayfield Superintendent Troy Zabel said the driving purpose is to give teachers the tools they need to do what the board has asked them to do. It lets teachers track specifically where each student is doing well in a subject and where they need help, so those things can be addressed.

"We need to keep the progress going," he said. It represents "a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the last year and a half."

He said the district otherwise pays a per pupil fee, a total of around $19,000 per year at $15 per student, to use existing computer programs to track how students are doing, programs he has said don't do what is needed.

"We are being very thoughtful of how we roll this out. I think it's the right direction to be going," he said. "I think I was hired to get (teacher) professional learning communities going. I see teachers struggle because we don't give them the tools to do what we ask them to do."

Earlier in Tuesday night's meeting, the board got a presentation about School Vault from third grade teacher Jen Rector and Durango School District Director of Student Achievement Christy Bloomquist.

Board member Carol Blatnick said School Vault is "an easy way of looking at how students are doing."

Board members approved the additional funding with minimal discussion, a change from 2013 when there was considerable skepticism about the venture.

On April 15, Zabel reported to the board that the districts are working with a software company to commercialize their creation for sale to other school districts.

"We feel it's very unique," he said. The two districts will maintain ownership of the software code up to when the private company starts work on it, probably in July.

"If the company is going in a direction we don't want, we'd be able to say we want to own the program to this point, to take it in a different direction, and there wouldn't be any cost to the district. We would own the code," he said.

But the districts have determined they can't commercialize the program on their own without a private company, he said.

In the meantime, Zabel said School Vault is still in the development stage. "9-R (Durango) has provided a ton of money. ... I'm extremely impressed with where we are getting to. We're always making adjustments when we find things that aren't working the way we want. We're around $1 million into this. Bayfield has paid around $50,000" plus the $20,000 approved this week.

According to commentaries in the Durango Herald, the Durango district has been criticized for all the money it has put into School Vault at a time when teachers are being laid off because of budget shortfalls.

Zabel said, "The private company is gathering money to continue the development. As it starts earning money, there will be money coming back and a profit-sharing to the districts. Other districts will pay a per-student fee each year to use the program."

A lot of districts are interested, he said. He was planning to make presentations to West Slope school officials during the week of April 21, and other meetings of school officials.

"There's interest outside our state," he said. "We've been working with Kentucky and Louisiana. We're sending information to the University of Washington." The presentations are "to show people where we're headed with it."