It should go without saying that, within MMSD, scholars are front and center—they always are, have always been, and will always be the primary focus. Educators and school administrators form arguably the next-most visible demographic within the district community, doing the in-the-field work necessary to prepare enrollees for college and beyond. Behind them, though, is a huge and largely silent contingent that works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure success at every grade level.
District director of safety & security Sedric Morris and director of software integration Nicholas Pinzke are two key members of that silent contingent, fully engaged in efforts that, on a daily basis, directly and positively impact students they’ll likely never meet and teachers they seldom see. The departments they lead are crucial pieces of the broader MMSD patchwork, and at the start of this year, they recognized an opportunity for collaboration with the potential to yield important results.
While visiting district high schools in September to monitor traffic flow, Morris noted that there appeared to be room for improvement in terms of how scholars were checked into their buildings after the day had started and the doors had locked. Each school seemed to use a different system for late arrivals that technically met their needs, but left much to be desired in terms of efficiency.
“Memorial was doing one thing, La Follette another, East and West were using a service that they were paying for,” said Morris. “We needed something universal, something that could be applied across the board and that would allow us at the district level, and the schools at the building level, to more easily access information and track how students were coming and going.”
Morris raised the issue with Pinzke, who realized that MMSD had all the tools necessary to begin solving the problem in-house, and in short order.
“With one main programmer, Myke [Mykhailo Turchanov], and a support person backing him up, it only took a few weeks to develop the first version of what would ultimately become this check-in app,” said Pinzke. “We rolled it out to La Follette as a pilot, got some feedback from their team, and about a week and a half later, managed to implement all the changes they had requested. Because the district is not just our employer but, in this sense, our client, the iteration process was optimally streamlined.”
Essentially, the tool works like this: When a student attempts to gain access to a building after the bell has rung, they have to scan their barcoded MMSD badge, whereupon their unique information is entered into the school welcome center’s computer system and shown to the employee screening visitors. If the scholar should be granted admission (i.e., if they are, indeed, enrolled at the school to which they’re trying to gain access), that information will be highlighted in green; if not, the information appears in red. The application also shows where in the building that scholar should go (i.e., what class and room), in addition to checking them in for the day.
After beta-testing the app at La Follette in October (the school has since fully adopted it) and seeing how it performed in a real-world scenario, Morris was eager to bring other schools into the fold. Memorial began using it in November, and the plan right now is for it to be the standard across district high schools at the outset of the 2023–24 school year. In the meantime, there are further refinements to be made.
“We’re looking to minimize the time it takes for the system to pull student information, ideally to five seconds or less,” said Pinzke. “Our Infinite Campus database has a lot of information on 27,000+ kids, so it takes a little while to scan that and bring it back. Optimizing is a process. Mostly, we’re excited about unlocking the software’s full potential and having it be a meaningful addition to the district’s security measures for years to come.”
Though this story is still being written, it serves to highlight the agility of the district in developing solutions to problems that could otherwise have required the intervention of an outside vendor, and is a prime example of the way its departments work together—and out of the spotlight— to achieve outcomes that tangibly benefit a range of stakeholders.