The city, which is 1.4 miles square, faces a double challenge: a large population of students whose first language is not English, and is part of the state's "Abbott" system, an outgrowth of a state Supreme Court ruling that brings additional funding. The Union City school district is under a mandate from the State of New Jersey not only to provide optimal education, but also to track and verify the effectiveness of program spending.
During the past four years, that information management challenge has increasingly been met by the use of FileMaker Pro, a cross–platform solution. Utilizing the expertise of two FileMaker Solutions Alliance (FSA) members, Union City has turned the old school chant of "no more pencils, no more books" into a happy refrain of "no more paper — it's in FileMaker."
That shift from paper to pixels came about in large measure because of the state demands, said Anthony Dragona, business administrator for the Union City Board of Education.
"All of our schools … were given the charge of having to develop school–based budgets," he recalled in a recent interview. This required a "new management style that would create management teams on a school level, schools would develop their own personalities, through choosing a model and developing a needs assessment and operations to support that plan."
Instead of concentrating data at the Board of Education, where allocations and decisions could be made, the information had to shift to the schools, Mr. Dragona said.
"We had to provide the schools with tools that would help them make decisions that would best impact a child's education," he noted.
In turn, this meant taking the data and making it available to administrators in the schools.
"Four years ago, we entered into agreement with [FileMaker developer School Base], it was 30–something databases," Mr. Dragona said. "Today, we're up to over 90 databases. We took a customized solution and it gave us what we needed at that time with expansion capability for the future."
Using School Base, the Union City board could track staff and demographic data, salaries, assignments, and from there, the district could enter into a five–year salary contract with its employees — a first for the city. Now, through the use of FileMaker, the board could see a five–year projection and know what salary costs would be through that period.
Quickly we are able to use FileMaker by pulling in staff data, insurance data, benefits, etc., to develop 95 percent of the budget in FileMaker. It's a database but it's friendly enough to develop calculations.
Almost all major aspects of running a modern public school system are helped with Union City's FileMaker implementation. Field trips for classes, once mired in a flurry of paper forms, can now be proposed and requested online, with e–mails going to appropriate Board of Education and transportation department personnel to both approve the trip and schedule the use of a school bus. Attendance data from a telephone–entry system, used by the staff, is funneled into FileMaker for recordkeeping and analysis, and can be consulted when preparing employee evaluations.
The evaluations themselves, required between two and four times a year for each teacher, are now completed by principals and administrators visiting each classroom, equipped with a notebook computer and wireless (802.11b) antenna. The evaluation is filled out on the computer and can later be accessed by administrators as part of a "teacher profile report" that covers every aspect of a teacher's job; many of these records include a digital photo of the instructor.
Everett "Mac" McCassey, who heads FSA–member firm Schoolbase in Auburn, NH, and is in Union City for several days each month, said executives of the Board of Education are constantly amazed at how quickly he is able to fulfill their requests, sometimes within minutes or an hour, for new features or view of data. In Union City, Mr. McCassey said, "they have better access to their own information, better control of it, eliminating duplicate data entry, and greatly increasing the accuracy of their information" thanks to FileMaker.
Aileen Silver of Possible SOLUTIONS Inc. in Monroe, NY, was instrumental in bringing Schoolbase to Union City, and has worked closely with Board of Education Human Resources Supervisor Michael DeNicola to help craft appropriate solutions that meet particular needs.
One system in which Mr. DeNicola was involved allows the Board of Education to track professional development activities for teachers, each of whom is required to accrue 120 hours of credit every five years.