Category : Technology

Image Post

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.

Image Post

New Add-on Features in Ascendance

Defining a significant company milestone in an unparalleled twenty-five-year journey, Senior Systems significantly extends the reach of its solutions and introduces many innovations that give all Senior Systems users new levels of effectiveness.

Our primary focus at Senior Systems is helping our clients succeed using our all-in-one administrative solution. Several areas we are continually improving is our parent experience in My BackPack and administrative processes in Ascendance. Here are our the latest add-on features in our Ascendance product line.

My BackPack AutoPay

The AutoPay feature is a recurring payment that parents can set up and control in My BackPack. Once they enroll, AutoPay automatically transfers funds from their bank account, debit card or credit card according to the schedule they set up. This new feature will help schools reduce delinquent payments and provide more reliable cash flow, while also providing a convenient way for parents to manage their online payments.

All-in-one Tuition Management

We are excited to be the first K-12 software provider to fuse the best features of both in-house and outsourced tuition management services. In Ascendance 93_3, we are offering an integrated tuition management service to streamline all aspects of the tuition process built into the Senior Systems platform. This means schools and families have one portal to use to manage payments and student records. Schools will get instant access to online deposits and real-time reporting across the platform.

SMS Broadcast Messaging

My BackPack SMS broadcast messaging is a quick and easy method for schools to send relevant messages to families on their mobile devices. This powerful form of communication is a must because 98% of a school’s population has access to mobile devices, and it’s also a preferred communication method by younger parents. You can setup queries in Ascendance to easily target specific student groups, parents, and staff. Create templates for quick messaging and personalize them with merge fields. SMS is consumed faster than any other kind of mass communication, with higher open rates compared to e-mail. This add-on feature will surely enhance our clients’ communication strategy.

Contact Sales for More Information

These add-on features in Ascendance are available now! Contact a Senior Systems Sales Consultant for more information at 1-888-480-0102, or send an e-mail to sales@senior-systems.com.

Image Post

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.

Image Post

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.

Image Post

The Advantages of a Completely Integrated Solution

The advantages of a completely integrated solution for schools are the same in any complex administrative operation. Integration means data is shared across the organization and only has to be entered once. From enrollment to graduation and every transaction in between, a completely integrated system for schools is the total solution.

There are many administrative software solutions on the market for independent schools. Most programs serve a single, specific need. Your school might use one program for attendance tracking, another for schedule management, and still more for publishing report cards, sending decision letters, and tracking graduation requirements, while relying on paper records as well. You have to manage integration between all the disparate programs to ensure that your student data is completely up to date.

Fed up with data integration headaches and desktop clutter? It might be time to think about a better way: the single database approach.

The Advantages of a Completely Integrated Solution

Ask Yourself the Following:

You can do each of the above – and much more – with an integrated administrative system for your school. The solution does not include workarounds, data kludges, complex programming scripts, or all-nighters to synchronize the data you have into a completely integrated system. A completely integrated system provides the means to share everything from the student’s enrollment, current course schedule, academic profile, tuition – everything.

It’s All in the Cloud – Academically Speaking

Better yet, what if the integrated administrative solution was in the Cloud, easily accessible from anywhere with an internet connection? Cloud products such as IaaS and SaaS are changing the paradigm of school technology. The Cloud is taking over the world of business and public computing – and is now available for your school. The SaaS model combined with a single database program is your fully integrated software solution.

The Advantages of a Completely Integrated Solution:

      • Along with improved data integrity, full integration gives you real productivity benefits since your staff only enters data once.
      • Your integrated solution is scaled to your needs, and its platform can grow as your enrollment increases. You pay only for the services you use, and you can add modules as your needs grow.
      • The service provider (Senior Systems) becomes your virtual IT support department. While you watch over your students, we monitor, troubleshoot, and protect your sensitive data. We manage your software upgrades, patches, and other environment needs.
      • Your data is continuously available and accessible to authorized users on a variety of devices, regardless of the operating system.

Now is the time to modernize! Replace your school’s collection of non-integrated systems with a completely integrated solution. Worried about investing in hardware and software? The Cloud solution is for you! Senior Systems offers a fully-hosted single-database solution so you can reap the benefits of accuracy, efficiency, and peace of mind.

Image Post

Senior Systems and Magnus Health SSO Integration

Simplifying processes is never a bad thing.

Neither is easing the burden on parents or decreasing time spent on redundant administrative tasks. So the Senior Systems, Magnus Health integration, which accomplishes all these tasks, can only be a good thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. Senior Systems and Magnus Health have partnered to offer Single Sign-On (SSO) for parents and an automated data transfer integration, which will save school administrators time by streamlining the information update and account creation processes.

The SSO process requires that schools use both My Backpack and Web Services. With those pieces in place, parents can use their My BackPack username and password when logging into Magnus. Schools must create parents and students in the Magnus system before the parent can successfully login. There are various methods of doing that, but we recommend using Auto Roster Import to make it as seamless as possible.

Senior Systems and Magnus Health integration is a simple, three-step process:

  1. Senior System schools use the Exporter tool to schedule exports of parent and student data. The data is exported in a format immediately ready for import to their Magnus account, so schools will not have to touch the export at all to ready it for import.
  2. The Senior Systems Exporter uses Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) to transfer the data to Magnus, where the Auto Roster Import (ARI) is programmed to recognize new file requests as they arrive.
  3. ARI leverages the Magnus API to automatically process requests, completing the transfer in 30 minutes or less.

Schools utilizing this integration are able to update existing parent and student user information and create new users with ease, as frequently as necessary. In addition, it requires very little hands-on involvement from the school. Simply export the information, sit back, and relax. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not.

Don’t forget one of the most important pieces of this integration puzzle – security. Schools want to know the information is secure in both systems, and during the transfer. Rest assured, so do we! Know that we approach everything we do with security in mind, and this integration is no different, that’s why we use SFTP to transfer the data from Senior Systems to Magnus.

And that’s all there is to it. Want to take advantage of the integration? Just contact your account representative to get started 1-888-480-0102, x2.

Senior Systems would like to thank Magnus Health for their collaboration and partnership.

Image Post

CMS Integration with Finalsite

Aristotle once said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Individually, Senior Systems and Finalsite provide the best of breed in their respective area of expertise in data management and content management solutions. Working together, they provide a SYNERGY that is unique to the private school market and more comprehensive than having each individually.

Data points

You’ll Save Time.

Your IT department has more important tasks at the beginning of the school year than to manually create online classes and update constituent information. This daunting (yet essential) works adds stress, and takes away from the time they should be spending on other projects (like implementing school-wide WiFi for your iPad 1:1 Program).

The integration with Senior Systems supports more than 40 data points (with more on the way), so important class and constituent data is automatically updated in My BackPack and Finalsite.

You’ll Ensure Data Integrity.

Simply put, you’ll have more consistent and accurate data. The integration replaces manual data sheet uploads, so you can be sure that constituent and classroom information is up-to-date and up to your standards. And since the API calls take place over an SSL connection, you can relax knowing that your data is safe and the connection is secure.

Your Faculty Will Love You For It.

When it comes to introducing new technology into the school, it’s not always easy to win points with teachers and other faculty. Since Senior Systems and Finalsite integrate, you won’t have to introduce any new software, so they can continue using the familiar platforms they love. And, Finalsite’s deep linking and single sign on options within Senior Systems and My BackPack allows faculty and students to jump from one platform to the other in just a couple of clicks.

You’ll Have Outstanding Support.

Since Senior Systems and Finalsite work well together, you can be sure that both of our teams are here for you and ready to answer all your questions. At Finalsite you’ll have a dedicated Project Manager and Integration Specialist to oversee the project from start to finish (and then you’ll have our friendly, in-house Support Team ready to answer any additional questions).

Want to learn more about Senior Systems integration with Finalsite? Check out our Events page.

Senior Systems would like to thank Detroit Country Day School and Finalsite for their collaboration and partnership.

Image Post

Cloud applications transforms schools, not just businesses!

The most talked about buzzword in technology for a while has been the cloud, which promises to transform businesses by enabling complex storage arrangements and drive the move to mobile computing.

However, businesses aren’t the only entities that can benefit from cloud technology. Independent Schools can effectively utilize cloud products, such as Ascendance Cloud, not only useful at improving their networks, but also dramatically improving the way they share data and communicate with their school communities.

So what’s the cloud? Cloud computing uses the Internet to connect to off-site storage, but distributes the data over different data-center locations. Data and business applications are drawn from the Internet when required. The technology supports virtual hardware which are computers simulated by software running on one or more real machines. Since virtual servers do not physically exist, they can be moved around and scaled up as required.

For example, Ascendance Cloud provides browser-based access via PC, Mac, or even tablet to the cloud. A school does not need up-front investments in equipment and just pay a simple monthly fee.

Maintenance, upgrades, and backups are performed invisibly by dedicated cloud engineers. This provides a 24/7 monitoring of the data-center, something that would be expensive for a school to replicate.

All this means that cloud storage systems enable schools to save money and space. A report by CDW Government found that over 40 percent of schools use cloud applications to store their data and by 2016, schools are expected to spend 35 percent of IT budgets on the cloud. The reason for this spending is that the cloud operations save an average of 20 percent on IT costs. It is expected that as the virtual technology improves, by 2016, those savings will reach 27 percent.

As reported by the Huffington post.

Moving to the cloud also provides key benefits to your school communities. Using cloud platforms, teachers have continual access to parents and students regarding assignments, tests, grades, attendance, and projects. This is because a cloud-based structure can be accessed from anywhere. Teachers can post important messages and keep an archive of completed work, which can be easily accessed by parents and students.

Cloud systems are ideal for disaster planning because data is stored away from the school and can continue to be accessed even if the schools networks are destroyed or rendered inaccessible. Natural disasters have caused catastrophes when it comes to student information being lost. Some schools have also found their servers destroyed by hackers. Cloud-based businesses can recover data quickly.

One of the major advantages of cloud-based systems is that they can bring together data pools that were previously unconnected. This gives educators and administrators everything they need in one spot. There is no need to buy extra hardware!

Hardware available to Cloud providers is also in a league above what a school can afford. For example, Senior System’s Ascendance Cloud uses expensive fault tolerant and redundant hardware using industry standards (RAID, Power Supplies, NIC), minimizing any downtime due to hardware failures. It also ensures that data is better protected from mechanical failure.

It is expected that many of the concerns users have about the cloud will disappear in the next few years and it will settle down as the mainstream method for schools to operate their networks.

Ascendance Cloud offers a headache-free environment to Independent Schools. We’ll provide the technical support and hardware allowing you to focus on intelligent reporting for school decision-makers.

For more information on Ascendance Cloud and Ascendance Software, please contact our sales department by fillig out this form.

Image Post

Preparing for a Student Health Record System Implementation

Preparing for a Student Health Record System Implementation and Online Health Form Rollout. By Amber Hawkins, Account Executive CareFlow Electronic Student Health Records

After selecting the right online student health record (SHR) for your school, it is time to shift your attention to the implementation process, and integration with your student information system (SIS). Managing change is crucial during this process. Identify all stakeholders and communicate with them, explaining what the changes will mean for them. Communication is key to planning your rollout, and will help you adhere to deadlines and milestones.

The first step is to perform a thorough analysis of current processes. What are the health center workflows? What information does your staff need from the SIS? How do athletic trainers operate? What do chaperones or coaches need when taking students off campus? Make sure your team takes these things into consideration in order to configure the software to meet your needs.

After analyzing your current workflow, the second step is integration with your SIS. Integration with Senior Systems means that certain types of data (depending on your school’s needs, usually student contact information at the very least) will be brought into your new student health record system so you have real-time, synced information between your student health records and your SIS.

Your school’s IT department and your Senior Systems project manager will work together to implement the integration, leveraging Senior Systems Web Services. In addition, unique to CareFlow is our ability to connect parents to our online health form through our proprietary single sign-on method (SSO).

Once your school is up and running and the integration is complete, training should be provided. It is important to realize that a lot of schools have staff who may need training outside of the SHR program if they are not proficient or comfortable using a computer. Tips on browser functionality, Excel, and iPads may be useful. Most users learn best through hands-on, real-world examples. I recommend onsite training with the trainer shadowing the staff and back-entering the information into the SHR after seeing the students (and as time allows). This will speed up the transition. As with any new software, you may feel that using the SHR is slowing you down at first, but once you and your staff become proficient and gain confidence, you will see an increase in effectiveness as well as time-savings.

As enrollment time rolls around, you will begin to design your health forms. There may be a catalog for you to select from. You should also be able to completely mimic your current forms if you choose to do so; however, many of the forms you use are likely used across other schools.

Setting goals is an important part of this process. You should expect to reduce communications with parents and reduce printing and the use of paper. You could also set a parent/guardian satisfaction goal.

To achieve these goals we recommend the following process:

  • Build the health forms.
  • Review the health forms.
  • Test the forms internally.
  • Revise the health forms if needed.
  • Work with the communications team to determine the communication process for parents (a.k.a. automated reminders).
  • Create a deadline for completion.
  • Determine your reporting needs for when you come back to school.
  • Open the health form up to a small parent group willing to provide feedback.
  • Revise the health forms again if needed.
  • Release the health forms to the general population.

Finally, we recommend that the health center staff come back to school a little earlier than usual the first year. After all, this is a new process for you, and you want to make sure you are comfortable when the normal rush begins. In year two, you will find it is much easier, not only for you, but also for parents.

Senior Systems would like to thank CareFlow for their collaboration and partnership.

Image Post

The Differences Between SIS and LMS

All Independent Schools recognize the significance of a robust Student Information System (SIS) that educates and informs personnel, maintains the integrity of your data, and keeps all offices across the campus updated with real-time data. Choosing the most suitable Student Information System to accommodate your school’s needs takes time coupled with extensive analysis. During this process it is important to understand the difference between a Student Information System and a Learning Management System (LMS).

A Student Information System is a software program for education and learning organizations to maintain student records. Your SIS needs to handle a wide variety of academic tasks to keep things running smoothly. You need functions to manage students and parent data, faculty, departments, grading, scheduling, attendance, discipline, and much more. Boarding schools need additional features to manage special situations such as dormitory assignments and weekend sign-outs. You will need quick and secure access to sensitive school data, and, of course, you need your SIS to be tightly integrated with your accounting, admissions, and alumni/development software.

In contrast, a Learning Management System delivers and manages instructional content. Depending upon the specific provider, an LMS program may offer content production and management tools, posting and feed functionality, integration with other products around your campus, E-commerce, and more. An LMS also can have an assessment component, to observe and collect data about each and every student’s progress. Simply put, a Learning Management System is a vehicle for continuing the classroom experience in an online format.

How can the Ascendance SIS help you?

  • Manage the admissions process, from early Inquiry stages through application and enrollment.
  • Instantly construct class and educator activities based on your student body and instructor and resource availability.
  • Track examinations, ratings, points, scores and additional intellectual development metrics.
  • Record attendance details and perform actions such as mailings and notifications based on absences and other discipline records.
  • Manage residential students, including boarding administration and home-life details.

Third-party Integration

Senior Systems Ascendance integrates with multiple popular Learning Management Systems, such as Schoology, Haiku, LearnSprout, Finalsite, and many more. Integration between our SIS and your LMS provider can be accomplished via the Senior Systems API.

There are many considerations before upgrading your SIS. With Senior Systems, there is no need to worry! We provide a hands-on approach in our implementation process. Depending upon your needs and preferences, we can provide training at your site, online, or at our new state-of-the-art training center in Massachusetts. We recommend standard training schedules for each of our products, but these can be adapted and customized based on your unique needs.

Download our free guide for choosing an SIS for your independent school.

We would love to show you more! To schedule a demonstration of our robust Registrar system (SIS), please contact sales at 1-888-480-0102, Ext 2, or E-mail us at sales@senior-systems.com.