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'Backpack SIS' Unveiled at iNACOL Symposium
Nov 12, 2010 (01:11 PM EST)


Only K-12 student information system built on Microsoft platform

GLENDALE, Ariz., Nov. 12, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Educators attending the nation's largest conference for online learning and technology here will get their first look at Backpack SIS - the first student information system to be fully integrated with Microsoft products - and its companion, Backpack Community, a student information portal and secure social network for students, parents and teachers.

A session on Backpack, entitled "Student Data Management: the Cornerstone of Every School," will be presented on Monday, Nov. 15, at the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium 2010 by representatives of Microsoft, National Network of Digital Schools, and the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber).

Backpack SIS is an information management system with a broad set of capabilities including enrollment, registration, scheduling, course management, attendance, seating charts, grade book tasks, health records management, discipline and incident reporting, special education, team and club tracking, bus route management, school and state reporting, and notification and alert subscriptions.

Backpack Community provides a secure social networking environment aligned with educational objectives, allowing students to view class schedules and grades, access course profile pages, create blogs, "friend" other students and join clubs and teams.

"Backpack is going to blow people away, it's so versatile and user-friendly," said Jamie Hodge, director of training services for the National Network of Digital Schools and a member of the presentation team. "It sits on Microsoft technology so it is easy to integrate with other systems, and the whole Microsoft team is behind us."

For teachers and parents, a student's courses, grades, test results, attendance and other information are no more than two clicks away, said Hodge.

Hodge called the state reporting function built into Backpack SIS a huge improvement over existing systems and an instant selling point for administrators. "All student info systems have data, but Backpack is different because the data is in one place. You don't have to close out of the screen and go to another system or part of the system."

Two years ago PA Cyber - with 10,000 students one of the nation's largest and most successful cyber charter schools – converted to Backpack after frustrating attempts to integrate new features and applications into its existing SIS.

Nicole Granito, an Academy Leader for PA Cyber, said as PA Cyber grew in size and sought to update and improve its SIS, developers ran into frustrating compatibility issues. "Students could track their courses, but they couldn't see their attendance records or receive their email," she said. "We had exhausted the capabilities of the software."

Granito said, "As a school, Backpack really increased our operational effectiveness. Teachers and administrators are able to make data-based decisions about both individual students and groups of students. The reports are easy to utilize."

At PA Cyber, the Backpack Community system is called "My School." It provides a student data portal that gives students and parents access to the information they want most, including courses, grades, attendance and school announcements," said Granito.

The story of Backpack development goes back five years.

Scott Orr, Backpack's chief architect, was with Metaphor Software, a Microsoft Dynamics partner, "when Microsoft approached us in 2005 to build this very robust and scalable student information system on Microsoft Dynamics CRM as an application development platform, and bring it to market."

Microsoft Dynamics GP software was used for school financial management applications, while Microsoft Dynamics CRM managed student accounts, school accounts, and the help desk. Orr said the strategic decision to build Backpack on top of existing reliable, universal software saved three to five years in development.

NNDS became interested in Backpack and suggested it for use by PA Cyber, its largest client school and one with a long history of technological and educational innovations. PA Cyber, NNDS and Microsoft Backpack worked together to implement Backpack into the online school's demanding real-world environment. When it more than lived up to its promise, NNDS purchased Backpack and entered into partnership with Microsoft to develop and market it.

(For a Microsoft Customer Solution Case Study on Backpack, click here.)

Orr, now working for NNDS, said one of the beauties of Backpack is its adaptability to traditional brick-and-mortar schools in helping them integrate their own successful online curriculum programs.

"Online data models and teaching methods are still largely foreign to traditional schools," said Orr. "NNDS's years of online curriculum and management experience and Backpack's user friendliness and versatility will help schools transition into the hybrid learning environment ahead for K-12 education."

"Best of all, Backpack frees teachers to do what they do best: teach."

PA Cyber, celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the largest charter or cyber charter school in the nation ever to make AYP, and boasts SAT and ACT scores above state and national averages. Headquartered where it began in a small steel town in western Pennsylvania, it serves nearly 10,000 students in grades K4-12 in all parts of the state.

The National Network of Digital Schools is the exclusive developer, designer and distributor of Little Lincoln and Lincoln Interactive, the nation's premium online curricula. It provides curriculum and educational management services to 200 schools in 15 states.

CONTACT: Fred Miller, +1-724-777-5918, fred.miller@nndsonline.org

SOURCE National Network of Digital Schools