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stories

From Months to Minutes: How Union Hill Got Their Staff’s Time Back

BY Jessica Mitchell

Northeast of Sacramento, near the Tahoe mountains, is the small district of Union Hill. Five years ago, they converted their elementary school to a charter school for grades TK-6th (their traditional middle school serves grades 7 & 8). Only about 20-30% of their TK-8th grade students live inside their district, meaning they’re dependent on families choosing to come to them.

“We are a school that people choose to come to because of what we offer,” explains Kim Boundy, the district’s Enrollment Lead and the School Secretary at Union Hill Elementary. “Alongside our strong focus on STEM, our district fully embraces its programs in art, classroom music and also offers equitable opportunity for students in grades 4-8 to join choir and take band. Instruments are available for those unable to provide their own.”

But there’s something else that makes Union Hill so desirable: the school leaders prioritize connecting with families. “We really are focused on making families feel valued and heard. We pride ourselves in our community outreach,” says Boundy. And they go the extra mile. “For instance, we have a full-time school counselor who works with students to find out what’s going on at home, who works to meet student needs in the classroom.”

Any educator knows that deep commitment to student support isn’t always easy on a staff member’s schedule – or on an organization’s budget. Especially when school organizations are tasked with so many other administrative priorities, like managing a complex enrollment process that involves applications, waitlists, registrations, and outreach.

The time-consuming realities of enrollment were being felt at Union Hill. “From the first week of August, all the way through December, we had one person solely focused on manually entering student application and enrollment data for 2-3 hours a day,” says Boundy. To get the student data they needed, they would send enrollment packs from the year before home with students, ask families to update and return the forms to school, then enter data by hand. Paper forms were resulting in a mountain of paperwork and “endless boxes of applications.”

That data-entry environment was less than ideal. And so, in 2017, they turned to SchoolMint’s online Strategic Enrollment Management solution. Now, with SchoolMint’s products in place, Union Hill asks families to log in to a secure, multilingual website to enroll. Right from a mobile phone, families submit applications, upload documents, accept offers, and complete registration packets all within the enrollment platform. And every data point is captured instantly to Union Hill’s admin dashboards – eliminating the need for manual data entry. They’re now virtually paperless, says Boundy.

“We’ve saved over 300 hours per year in manual data entry since switching to SchoolMint,” Boundy found. “Ultimately, time is money, and it’s saved us tons of money.” Saving time on data entry has actually made prioritizing family engagement even more possible these days. “This year has been so smooth, and with the huge reduction of data entry, it’s allowed office staff to shift, devoting more time to assisting families and the flow of the office.” Which is key to Boundy, because THAT commitment to family outreach is part of why the schools are successful, afterall.

SchoolMint is helping Union Hill sustain their course in a handful of other ways, too. When it comes to relationship-building, “SchoolMint has really helped us collect data,” says Boundy. “We can now identify students with specific needs right away, such as IEPs, 504s, severe allergies or custody issues. We can instantaneously reach out to families that aren’t in a permanent household and get services to them sooner than ever before. And I can immediately get that information into the hands of special education directors, counselors and/or social workers.”

And with data that’s more accurate, it’s easier to follow through with family communications. “Parents change their cell phone as much as they change their jacket. The clean data we have now with SchoolMint makes a huge difference.” On early release days, Union Hill relies on the contact info and communication tools inside their enrollment portal to remind families via an automated mass message. “The text message feature on SchoolMint allows an instant connection to parents and guardians with the option for a reply which has hugely reduced our non pickups for those early days,” Boundy says. “When we send out the notice of early release, we may get a response back for a particular student to ride the bus. The ability to communicate is clear, precise, and comforting to the families.”

These improved relations are in turn fueling more efficient and stable operations, believes Boundy. Like many schools, Union Hill depends on a certain level of family involvement, and for volunteer days, collecting donations, and even posting jobs, their new communication tools are helping. “What I love about the communication piece,” she says, “I can say ‘reply to this email’ to volunteer, and within 10 minutes, I have volunteers for a vision screening tomorrow.”

Equally important to operational stability are the functionalities Union Hill has gained from SchoolMint’s Application & Lottery Management tool. Boundy has greater visibility into the number of families in each stage of the enrollment funnel, allowing her to project enrollment based on the number of applications that are complete and submitted. And she can help move families quickly through the process, adding and qualifying students to waitlists.

In the end, for Union Hill, the staff efficiencies and family engagement gains are important because delivering for families is crucial to their reputation. It’s why families are choosing Union Hill, and it’s how they’ve become a charter school with steady enrollment. And continuing to deliver on that reputation is what’s going to keep their operational costs down, and their enrollment numbers sustainable, for years to come.