Cathie Anderson

Folsom’s PowerSchool continues acquisitions tied to educational data

PowerSchool, based in Folsom, added dozens of workers after securing two acquisitions that complement its education software system. PowerSchool’s employees regularly have barbecues on a patio that overlooks the American River Parkway.
PowerSchool, based in Folsom, added dozens of workers after securing two acquisitions that complement its education software system. PowerSchool’s employees regularly have barbecues on a patio that overlooks the American River Parkway. courtesy of PowerSchool Group

Increasingly, school administrators are seeking one system that can manage all student data, and PowerSchool chief executive Hardeep Gulati is moving strategically and swiftly to satisfy them. In early May, he made the Folsom-based company’s third acquisition since November 2015.

PowerSchool has added a case management system known as TIENET, used by more than 800 school districts nationwide to manage data, forms and education plans for students in special education classes, gifted-talented programs and other discrete populations. Although TIENET originally was developed by two educators in New Jersey in 1984, the Virginia-based multinational Maximus acquired it in 2004 and created a K-12 education practice that significantly expanded the system’s capabilities. PowerSchool bought Maximus’ K-12 operation, and with it, TIENET.

“California and pretty much every other state has rules around special education,” Gulati said. “Each school district has to make special accommodations, in terms of how they provide instruction, how they provide additional help. That includes counseling, special education, any medical help. Basically, the teachers have to work closely with the special education administrators and the counselors and the doctors to make sure that the child is getting the right education, factoring in their disabilities. And, they need to document all that.”

Often, Gulati said, educators are duplicating their efforts, entering information into multiple systems to track everything. The integration of TIENET’s case management system with PowerSchool’s student information systems will make that completely seamless, he said.

The two systems are already compatible, Gulati said, because PowerSchool actually began working with Maximus’ K-12 education practice five years ago because leaders of some school districts wanted systems that could share information.

Renee Pardo was director of business development for Maximus’ K-12 practice, and she was given the option of staying with her employer of 19 years but opted to join PowerSchool as director of business development for TIENET. When she started working on the program in 2004, she said, it only had a special education module.

Today, TIENET also supports educators who need to prepare an intervention plan aimed at students who might be able to improve outside special education, Pardo said. TIENET captures the data that schools need to bill Medicaid for special medical accommodations provided to some students. It tracks the assistance given to English-language learners and the enrichment programs provided to gifted and talented students. Plus, it allows educators to document that they have provided necessary accommodations to students who have temporary or permanent disabilities and whether those accommodations are sufficient.

“It’s important in our society that we are fair and balanced and we’re providing education for kids of all types, for whatever their personal situation is or whatever their disabilities are,” Gulati said. “The challenge of complying with the special education laws is that there are so many individualized education programs and case management forms required. Teachers are spending more time documenting those things. When they’re teaching in the classroom, they’re not able to have clear visibility on how the kids are learning and absorbing the concepts.”

By further integrating PowerSchool’s student information system with TIENET, Gulati said, teachers’ grades and notes on student performance will populate right along with the individualized education program. If they have the property security clearances, school counselors, psychologists, doctors, parents all can collaborate on the education plan, assess how it is working and suggest alternatives as needed. Gulati said he plans to hire staff to develop an ecosystem that works for all involved.

“It’s a much more real-time way to manage what the special needs are,” he said, “so the teacher can provide the right intervention in the classroom. We’re linking all that information right into the normal teaching process.”

Pardo said that this sort of integration is a must: “More than two-thirds of the requests for proposals that I see from school districts include a component for special education, so it just makes sense that all this data should be housed in one place to be able to respond to needs in the marketplace and also to just make life easier on a daily basis for classroom teachers, for special education teachers, for administrators and for parents. Parents are already going into PowerSchool to view grades, absences. Why make them go off into a completely different system if they have a child with special needs?”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee