Category : How-to

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Ransomware Primer How to Protect Your School

Ransomware attacks continue to grow at a rapid pace, and they’re expected to double in 2018. They’ve even spread to school districts and are the reason why the PARC exams in the New Jersey district were delayed in 2015 (for random ransom demands upwards of $124,000). Moreover, K-12 schools are often targets and private PK-12 schools with small budgets or IT teams can be at risk. That’s why it’s important to understand the basics of ransomware, and how it spreads and infects. You can prevent ransomware from happening in the first place by implementing some best practices. Here’s what you need to know.

The Basics and How It’s Dispersed

Ransomware is malicious software that is often spread via pop-ups on mobile browsers and email. When individuals access this content, it leaves them vulnerable to an attack that can lock their data, deny access to it and even destroy the data. It can spread quickly by exploiting domain vulnerabilities, too. Cybercriminals that hack the system often follow up with a ransom demand in order to release this information, and academic institutions are often a target.

Ransomware Best Practices

While ransomware attacks are on the rise, it doesn’t mean that you’re left defenseless. You can take the necessary steps to ensure your school and staff are protected by using some key best practices:

Change passwords frequently. Keeping the same password will keep you and your staff susceptible to hacks. Avoid this by implementing a procedure that requires staff to change their passwords on a frequent basis, such as every 90 days. By doing this, you can reduce the potential of a ransomware attack.

Test your network. Keeping one step ahead (or more) of ransomware attackers is vital to reducing the incidence of an attack. You can accomplish this by consistently checking for vulnerabilities in your school’s network.

Examine incoming email. Links within emails are an easy way for hackers to access your information without your knowledge. All it takes is one click on the wrong link to fall prey to a potential hacker. That’s why it’s important to examine your incoming email for suspicious or unfamiliar requests from people you don’t know, or even from those you know that may request something off-hand. Rather than clicking on the link, you can open up emails at home or at work via school portals that are encrypted. Also, watch out for phishing schemes that ask for your information, such as your bank account number or your school ID number.

Keep a backup of all pertinent information. Often, hackers that demand ransom block access or even delete the vital content you need to get school work done. Backing up all vital content is an essential step to avoid the risk of losing access to the data you need to get school tasks completed or to prevent hackers from getting the upper-hand.

Use anti-virus software. Start off with the right tools from the first day of school operations. Ensure that all school computers and mobile devices that have access to your network are equipped with software that can easily spot viruses, malware and suspicious activity that attempt to exploit your system.

Have a plan. Even with taking the necessary precautions to prevent a ransomware attack, schools can fall prey to savvy hackers. In the event this happens, it’s key to have a plan in place so that your staff can be aware of the right actions to take should anything go wrong.

Final Thoughts

Ransomware is prevalent and is projected to continue to grow. However, by taking the essential steps to safeguard your data, you can get your work done for school and be confident your information is safe.

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Go Green with Paperless Admissions

A Paperless Admissions Process

Blake and his family like what they read about your school online as compared to the other schools they are considering. They love the school colors, the mission statement, sense of school spirit and how easy the website is to use. Mom thinks “This school seems to understand the need to teach students about technology.”

Relieved to have found a solid potential school choice, they excitedly find a tour date and time that fits their schedule and fill out the simple online registration form. Clicking ‘submit’ makes them almost ‘feel’ like a student when they immediately receive a school branded message welcoming them by name and stating that the Admissions Director is looking forward to meeting them.

The Admissions office added Blake to this year’s list of incoming students. The admissions office is now able to electronically track the geographic spread, ages and feeder schools of interested potential students.

Admissions subsequently sends messages to Blake’s family about the school and activities they may attend to become more familiar with the school such as sporting events, plays, STEM events, etc.

Blake and his family feel very welcome when they arrive for the tour. A unique name tag and a welcome packet with his name on it are ready for him when they arrive.

At home that night, they complete the online admissions application branded with the school’s mascot while remembering all of the good things they saw and heard at the school. Blake’s mom makes their initial payment using the secure online payment system.

Upon pressing submit, they receive a warm welcome note addressed to Blake. They discover another email personally addressed to Blake from the Dean.

Go Green with Paperless Admissions

Full Integration Is Key

Accounting opened a record for Blake indicating his initial payment was made, and his account is paid to date. They know his family will not be seeking financial aid because it was a question on the online application that automatically populated the financial aid field in the single database.

Next year’s marketing campaign has begun. Admissions will be able to print a list of feeder schools and know at what age potential students begin the search for their next school. This school year will be spent meeting with teachers to develop age-appropriate activities/demonstrations to interest the demographics of potential students.

Blake and his family excitedly begin shopping for school supplies from the list they printed for his grade from the website.

Go Green with Senior Systems Software

Senior Systems solution electronically transforms how schools operate eliminating the cost of paper, copying, envelopes and postage.

Free your school from the hassle of paper files and redundant labor-intensive messaging with Senior Systems database platform. All of the features above can be added and customized for your school in one comprehensive package. Contact Senior Systems at 1-888-480-0102, x2 or email info@senior-systems.com to discuss what we can do for your unique situation.

ABOUT SENIOR SYSTEMS

With Senior Systems, you only need to enter information once and access it everywhere. Eliminate the complications that come from trying to synchronize multiple copies of data across applications. Easily, seamlessly and securely manage the student lifecycle from prospect to alumni with our single database solution.

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Questions To Ask Alumni to Maximize Donations

What Motivates Alumni to Donate?

Getting alumni to donate involves holding meaningful events to bring them together and listening to their feedback about alumni experiences. At these fundraising events ask these alumni the following questions:

1. What are common themes of your experience at the school?
2. What events did you enjoy when you were a student?
3. What areas of the school do you think could be improved?
4. What keeps you in contact now?

Tapping the Past, for the Future

After you’ve gotten some answers, hold an informal gathering built on shared interests and motivations regarding the school. For example, if the school has a strong basketball team, consider a pre-game mixer with a follow-up trip to the game, with alumni sitting together. For those who cannot attend, create a web page with updates via social media. Have some fundraiser scouts at the game and online, to ask whether alumni would consider donating. Mention which concerns need attention, such as the gym, the uniforms, and the equipment.

Build on Alumni Pride

Some areas of a school aren’t as colorful and social as sports, music, and drama. The way to get alumni to give to programs that involve art, writing and science is to highlight what students are doing, what they need now, and tie that to the past. Here are a few ideas:

Assign an art project that involves drawing different parts of the school and special moments on campus. Showcase student work in a real and virtual gallery with a fundraising event. There, alumni can donate money and purchase student work to benefit the school. Ask for feedback from donors about what spurred them to give.

Assign a student project of writing a letter to an alumnus. The letter should center on a student’s happy memory at the school. Allow alumni to donate a small sum to receive a real or digital message and reply to their student.

Have students write a funny explanation of their science project. Create an interactive digital gallery of the student science fair with digital tags that alumni can click on to read about student projects. Have teachers explain what supplies the classes need to continue this work. Allow alumni to donate to specific funds, such as science supplies.

These scenarios, and others like them, present “feel good” opportunities to create a buzz around the school and attract media attention. They make students and alumni aware of one another’s existence and reveal the potential for the future. After you’ve held a few of these fundraisers, ask for responses from students, parents, administrators and alumni about additional ideas for similar events. It’s almost sure you will have unleashed everyone’s creativity!

ABOUT SENIOR SYSTEMS

With Senior Systems, you only need to enter information once and access it everywhere. Eliminate the complications that come from trying to synchronize multiple copies of data across applications. Easily, seamlessly and securely manage the student lifecycle from prospect to alumni with our single database solution.

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How All-in-One Data Systems Encourage Student Loyalty

Private schools pride themselves on the strength of their communities. That community extends beyond the classroom to alumni, who provide essential financial and promotional support to develop the school’s reputation and build its resources. In an environment where there is increased pressure on schools to excel in its programs and students’ career advancement, alumni connections are an essential tool.

A school’s relationship with its alumni has progressed as technology has made communication easier and more personal. Innovative administrators have worked to enhance these relationships with personalized messaging and targeted donor marketing campaigns. As alumni are asked to do more than give money – on-campus participation is now often expected–schools have to work harder to impress former students and emphasize their importance to the institution. Administrators who have combined software solutions that keep information about students in one place have an easier job when it comes to reaching out to their former graduates.

Schools Rely on Alumni Contributions

In the absence of public funds, private schools rely on tuition fees and alumni contributions to fund their programs. Significant costs, such as the capital expenditures of new buildings and replacement of aging equipment, are often funded by donations. Scholarships and financial aid support students who meet the rigorous academic requirements of a private K-12 school but do not have the wealth to pay full tuition. Schools want top students; alumni donations provide the means for them to create an environment that encourages enrollment.

Alumni provide services that significantly enhance a school’s reputation. Their willingness to promote the school on social media, at industry events or upon return to campus for events is a testimonial to the institution’s quality. In particular, when alumni go on to have success in post-secondary education and in their industry, the school adds to its list of distinguished graduates. This makes the school more attractive to future generations of students.

Former students may have a more active role to play. They may directly assist in student recruitment by identifying star K-12 students at another institution or in the public system, who could benefit from transferring to the school. Alumni act as valued mentors to current students, providing advice and direction concerning future educational opportunities and promising careers. Schools, therefore, receive a significant return on the time and money they invest on alumni relations, as institutions and students alike have an enhanced experience as a direct result of alumni involvement.

How All-in-One Data Systems Encourage Student Loyalty

How Integrated Information on Alumni Improves Relationships

Comprehensive student systems allow schools to keep all information they have on an individual in one place. In a segregated system, the student’s admissions, grades and coursework, financial records, and extracurricular and club activities are separate from one another. Integrated systems permit administrators, or those with relevant information access and authority, to create a snapshot of a student’s entire history with the school.

This snapshot is of great value to an institution that wants to improve its alumni relations. Administrators can identify basic information, including years of attendance and destination upon graduation. They can also see who came in as a scholarship student and who was a legacy candidate–the latest in a line of attendees from one family. Specific interests, such as clubs, sports, and competitions, such as science fairs or debate teams, might also be in this database.

Schools can use this specific information to improve alumni relations. Previous scholarship winners might be invited back to speak at an event honoring new recipients of the same award. Donation campaigns might be specifically targeted, so alumni can contribute to an event or activity in which they participated. Previous debate team members might give money to new advocates. Science fair competitors might support budding scientists showing off their innovations.

Alumni know that their schools want their money, but institutions have to take that extra step to demonstrate that they are remembered and valued. In addition, targeted campaigns make alumni feel more connected to the school’s cause. It is often easier to raise funds from former students who know firsthand the value of the program, cause or piece of equipment the school is trying to support.

Database for a Comprehensive Student History

Transitioning to a comprehensive student system has many benefits. Staff members with a need to access several types of student information–course history, athletics, admissions, financials–can do so using one database. Privacy controls can also be implemented to protect students from breaches.

Since integrated systems require only one entry, in many cases, for each student, there is less room for error concerning biographical and contact information. With less paper and data entry, staff can save time and focus on more important tasks. Most importantly, it takes mere moments to create a snapshot of each treasured student. When those students become alumni, they will have a lifelong relationship with the school. As the school shows it has a vested interest in each student’s success, those students will reward that loyalty with its money, time, knowledge and mentorship.

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How To Use My BackPack FormBuilder To Collect Payments

FormBuilder is an add-on product for My BackPack that makes it easy for users to develop custom-created forms and communicates with parents and staff directly, electronically and paperlessly.

How My BackPack FormBuilder Works:

Develop Form

The 3rd Grade is getting excited about their annual class field trip. Mrs. Wilson, their teacher, knows that getting signed permission slips and trip payment each year is a process that takes time. Sometimes these notes get lost, parents delay responding, or checks are forgotten –requiring follow-up calls and emails.

How To Use My BackPack FormBuilder To Collect Payments

Mrs. Wilson had a quiet moment at home one evening, so she logged in to My BackPack using her secure password to create a message to parents about the field trip.

With FormBuilder, she created a form announcing the 3rd Grade field trip details such as time, date, where to meet, etc.

This type of trip requires a RSVP so she added a ‘YES’ button for parents to select if their child will be going on the trip. She also set up a ‘NO’ button with a note field if a child was not able to attend. She also noted a deadline to RSVP.

There is a cost to the trip so Mrs. Wilson specifies the amount of payment and adds a button so parents can make payments safely and securely.

Mrs. Wilson decides this was the perfect opportunity to have parents verify contact information. She selects fields (such as name, address, primary telephone contact, email, etc.) to be populated for each student and adds a note asking parents to kindly verify and correct contact information.

She saves the entire form in My BackPack.

Before she sends the form, she confirms that only children currently in the class will receive the note. One student recently moved away, and she wants to make sure that family does not receive a field trip note.

All looks good. She hits ‘SEND’ and planning for the 3rd Grade Class Trip is officially underway.

Parents Receive and Reply to Message

Each parent instantly receives an email in his or her inbox informing them about the upcoming trip details.

How To Use My BackPack FormBuilder To Collect Payments

Mrs. Bryan immediately opens her email because she saw the text her child’s teacher sent to her. She is pleased to send her child on the trip and responds by clicking ‘YES’ to RSVP. She then selects the payment button to have the cost of the trip charged to her credit card.

She reads Mrs. Wilson’s note about verifying contact information. The family email recently changed, so she enters the new email then clicks ‘SEND’.

Mrs. Wilson instantly gets a text notification about Mrs. Bryan’s response.

Mrs. Wilson approves the new contact information to replace the old contact information in the school database.

Database Reporting

Without further action by Mrs. Wilson, RSVP and Payment Status lists have been developed electronically for her. She also has a new class contact list available to print.

Accounting now knows who has paid for the trip, and this information has been updated in the family account.

Save countless hours, resources and headaches with a multi-step process easily simplified with My BackPack’s FormBuilder. For more information about FormBuilder, please visit the product page or contact our sales department for a live demonstration.

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How To Create A Form With FormBuilder

My BackPack FormBuilder

In this video, we will show you how to easily create a form with FormBuilder for My BackPack.

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Getting Ready for Ascendance End of Year Processing

It’s that time of year!

Students are getting ready to graduate or move on to their next challenge. School offices are wrapping up their administrative tasks for the current year, and looking ahead to the upcoming academic and fiscal year. End of year processing can seem like an overwhelming task, but with a little preparation and some good instructions, you can wrap up this year and start looking ahead to the upcoming academic and fiscal year.

You can check it out here: End of Year – Online

Getting Ready for Ascendance End of Year Processing

For a smooth End of Year process…

  • Make sure you have a current backup. This is the single most important thing to remember. You may not need it, but it does not hurt to be prepared. Ascendance Cloud customers should contact Senior Systems Product Support at least 24 hours in advance so we can schedule your backup. Self-hosted customers should create a special backup that will not be over-written for at least several months (or until your audit is complete).
  • Preparation is key! Even if you’re an End of Year “veteran”, make sure to review this year’s instructions as there are always at least a few changes.
  • Do you have several offices that may not be in the same building, or not even on the same campus? You might want to designate a coordinator! A coordinator acts as a single point of contact for each office going through EOY processing, and makes sure each step happens at the right time.
  • As you get started, be sure to read ALL the instructions before you begin. Some tasks are absolute pre-requisites for others. All data entry for Academic Office applications MUST be complete (grades, comments, attendance, report cards), while some Business Office data can be finished up after EOY.

…and please be sure to contact Senior Systems Product Support if you have any questions.

Congratulations on wrapping up another successful year!

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Publishing Report Cards Electronically with My BackPack

Is your school trying to reduce the amount of paper generated and sent through the mail to parents and students?

Since the release of version 92_0, many of our schools are now making use of the new electronic report card publishing features in Ascendance. There are several publishing options, and your school can use any (or any combination) of these:

  • Send the student report card to parents or students as an email attachment.
  • Email parents or students a link to a secure online version of the student report card (parents or students will need to sign in with their My BackPack credentials to view the report card).
  • Publish the student report card to the parent’s or student’s My Documents page in My BackPack, where it can be viewed and/or downloaded.

Publishing Report Cards Electronically with My BackPack

In addition to publishing Report Cards to My BackPack, you can also publish other custom, student-specific documents, such as:

  • Transcripts
  • Progress reports
  • Honor Roll reports

A secondary benefit to electronically publishing these documents is that the process automatically creates an online archive of these documents on the Media tab in the student record, which can be helpful for future reference purposes.

Implementing this feature requires some custom programming, which can be arranged by contacting our Senior Systems Custom Branding Services group. They’ll work with you to determine which reports can be published electronically, and make the necessary program changes.

My BackPack: 20 Must-use Education Tech Tools