Odyssey Charter Schools has long been at the forefront of technology, with most of its lesson planning online since the early 2000s. The organization started using Jotform Enterprise in February 2021 to help manage two significant processes: registration and orientation. The benefits have led staff to investigate how Jotform Enterprise can improve operational efficiencies associated with managing and running a charter school.
Though Odyssey has thoughtfully adopted technology over the years, as recently as last year, it still handed out a 60-page registration packet to parents. Secretaries at the elementary, middle, and high schools had to input the information from those completed forms into Google Sheets.
Often, there was no way to perform the calculations or get the information they needed within those systems, or those responsible for the input didn’t know how to do this, so everything had to be exported from Google Sheets to Excel. It was time for a change.
The way that Jotform operates is brilliant. You can save so much time and effort using the form responses to determine what’s needed from each registrant automatically.Melanie Dunlop, Educator and Jotform Enterprise Project Manager, Odyssey Charter Schools
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“Jotform Enterprise provided a great opportunity to streamline our process and improve the experience for new and returning families,” says Melanie Dunlop, a 30-year career educator who manages Odyssey’s Jotform implementation.
For example, when registering with Odyssey, a student must provide a copy of their vaccination card, driver’s license (if applicable), and Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 (if applicable). An IEP can be 30–40 pages long, which can make it time-consuming for an individual to provide. But the drag-and-drop conditional logic in Jotform Enterprise can identify returning students and customize their registration process, eliminating requests for information that’s already on file.
“The way that Jotform operates is brilliant. You can save so much time and effort using the form responses to determine what’s needed from each registrant automatically,” says Dunlop. What’s more, all the documentation is uploaded and sorted online, eliminating a tremendous amount of paperwork.
Once Odyssey receives data from families via its online registration form, staff use Jotform Tables and workflows to process new student applications, automating what was once an entirely manual process.
We’ve customized Jotform Tables with color coding and notes so everyone on the team can quickly and easily see the status of each student.Melanie Dunlop, Educator and Jotform Enterprise Project Manager, Odyssey Charter Schools
“We’ve customized Jotform Tables with color coding and notes so everyone on the team can quickly and easily see the status of each student,” says Dunlop. “We can use filters to see who is accepted, who is rejected by whom and why, and whose application is on hold. If the application is on hold, we can see why and trigger the appropriate next steps.”
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County, state, and federal funding programs require schools to collect specific personal and financial information to demonstrate community needs, determine eligibility, and secure funding. Creating an experience that makes students and families feel comfortable providing this information is the first step.
“Being able to state that we have a dedicated server that meets HIPAA standards gives our community a sense of protection,” Dunlop explains.
In addition to using online forms to collect the necessary data, Odyssey uses Jotform to automate the calculations that determine eligibility, eliminating a lot of manual work. “The ability of Jotform to complete much of the computation required increases staff effectiveness,” says Dunlop.
When COVID-19 forced a shift away from in-person interactions, many schools had to duplicate their registration process, copying information from locally stored or paper documents into Google, where information isn’t protected.
“Jotform Enterprise provides us with a solution that lets us collect all the data we need for the school, district, charter, and state in a safe, secure environment,” says Dunlop.
What’s truly amazing is the ability to align and layer form submission data onto our existing registration data, giving us a holistic view of any child. Getting the information that’s necessary for our state, district, and charter system and putting it into Jotform has been great!Melanie Dunlop, Educator and Jotform Enterprise Project Manager, Odyssey Charter Schools
Special education is another area where Odyssey uses Jotform Enterprise to streamline and secure critical information. Dunlop has automated the time-consuming task of collecting signatures from parents and the various specialists that serve Odyssey’s students by embedding digital signature fields into her online forms.
“We benefit from the protection of a HIPAA-compliant server, request digital signatures, and automate a lot of data entry with Jotform forms,” she says.
Being able to collect digital signatures is particularly helpful when the state or county requires all staff to sign specific documents. “Jotform Enterprise makes it easy for me to upload PDFs and documents, create an online form that exactly matches the language in that document, send it out as a link so everyone can sign it, and store the submission data securely,” Dunlop says.
Digital documents save a tremendous amount of time and physical space, allowing Odyssey’s staff to file, share, and download any document with a mouse click. As Dunlop points out, “If the regulators don’t require a physical submission, we can just house the information in Jotform, which saves us from printing and storing volumes of paper. Why house a roomful of documents if you don’t need to?”
Before incorporating Jotform Tables, Odyssey used Jotform Enterprise’s integration with Google Sheets to view form submission data. While importing and exporting the data is easy, Dunlop prefers the functionality in Jotform Tables and finds the experience to be better than Google sheets.
“What’s truly amazing is the ability to align that information and layer it onto our existing registration data to create a holistic view of any given child,” Dunlop says. “We can see their IEP, driver’s license, declination forms for immunizations, and the rest of their registration and orientation information. If we’re ever audited or need to provide a hard copy of student information, our staff can report out or print a copy; it’s all housed in one Jotform table on a secure HIPAA-compliant server.”
Because of its early success with Jotform Tables, Odyssey is exploring ways to use it to automate Title 1 information and calculations, which would eliminate the need for manual calculations and reduce errors.
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Dunlop learned a lot about the potential for Jotform Enterprise by exploring the needs of staff across different departments. “We have multiple people who use the product every day and in very different ways,” she says.
In addition to enhancing Odyssey’s registration and orientation processes for students, parents, and teachers, Dunlop is working with human resources and finance to get the most from their Jotform Enterprise account.
“Charter and private schools have to conduct all the business and administrative functions themselves,” says Dunlop. “Having Jotform Enterprise to streamline how business gets done every day makes a big difference.”
Having Jotform Enterprise to streamline how business gets done every day makes a big difference.Melanie Dunlop, Educator and Jotform Enterprise Project Manager, Odyssey Charter Schools
Dunlop sees the payment integrations offered by Jotform Enterprise as a quick win. “We could use online payments when we sell T-shirts and yearbooks, collect fees for field trips, and order caps and gowns for graduation — whatever we happen to be collecting,” she says.
Dunlop also sees great potential in using Jotform Enterprise to move Odyssey’s mileage reimbursement forms and purchase orders online. Online forms would enable staff members to upload the required document as a sheet or PDF, upload receipts, fill out the form at their desk, and scan and send information wherever it’s needed.
Dunlop adds that while it’s convenient to have digital forms and files, there’s a tangible health and safety benefit as well. Odyssey’s various departments are spread across several buildings, and staff frequently walk back and forth across a parking lot to collaborate.
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“While it’s healthy to walk around occasionally, you can get your job done faster if you don’t need to walk something over to someone, and when it’s dark and pouring rain outside or over 120 degrees, that one-click solution is very appealing,” she explains.
Being able to accept a digital signature removes a lot of barriers, eliminates a great deal of paperwork, and automates filing and PDF creation for reporting.Melanie Dunlop, Educator and Jotform Enterprise Project Manager, Odyssey Charter Schools
Dunlop is also looking to add value by migrating Odyssey’s timesheets to Jotform Enterprise. Though Odyssey is a frontrunner in technology adoption, someone still has to walk around reminding staff to fill out their paper timesheets.
Dunlop sees many benefits to shifting to a digital form. As the pandemic evolves, many employees are wary of interacting with others or coming into the office. Allowing digital signatures for timesheets reduces unnecessary stress and exposure. Odyssey also has staff offsite who don’t know how to scan documents or lack the necessary equipment to do so.
“Being able to accept a digital signature removes a lot of barriers, eliminates a great deal of paperwork, and automates filing and PDF creation for reporting,” says Dunlop.
Dunlop leads Odyssey’s adoption of Jotform Enterprise with an open-ended and collaborative approach, and she encourages others to do the same. She sees her role as serving her colleagues and the greater school community, making accommodations for people, and being a leader.
“I would advise anyone looking for a solution to ask the individuals who are going to be using the tool what they need from it,” says Dunlop, “from tiny details like changing a color to rethinking daily functions to enable the best and most efficient work possible. The school and the solution need to make that happen.”
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