82.1 F
San Fernando
Saturday, Sep 30, 2023


WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Schoolsoft was born of a happenstance conversation between company Chief Executive James Weldon and a neighbor. In 1995, the single-mother neighbor told him that her son had just been kicked out of high school, and she was shocked because she had no inkling there was even a problem. “Her son had been intercepting messages sent home and erasing phone messages, things like that,” said Weldon. The situation gave Weldon an idea. What if parents were able to use their home computers to access their child’s school records, much like accessing their own bank accounts through an online service? That way, parents could easily stay on top of their child’s progress in school. Weldon, 33, and his brother John, 31, went to work developing software that would do just that. The result is a program the brothers sell to schools, allowing parents to gain instant access to their children’s records, detailing everything from attendance to grades in specific courses. “Most people don’t know their kids have problems until it’s too late,” said Weldon. “If people managed their finances like that, they’d go bankrupt.” So far, about 200 schools around the country have purchased Schoolsoft products, about 90 percent of them private schools. The brothers expanded their product offerings so that schools can also use the system to record grades, handle accounting and keep track of fund-raising activity. Schoolsoft put its products on the market last year and racked up sales of about $300,000, Weldon said. It is on track to quadruple that figure in 1998 with projected sales of $1.2 million. The systems cost about $10,000 for each school. The way the system works is that teachers and administrators use hand-held computers to input each child’s progress. Those electronic records are then downloaded into the school’s main central computer system. The download can be accomplished by either plugging the hand-held computer into a phone line or plugging it directly into the central computer. Parents can then access that central computer data either through their personal computer or by touch-tone phone. Each parent is given a secret access code to protect the family from having their children’s records viewed by others. “(Schoolsoft) is especially good for charter schools, which are based on parent participation in their child’s education process,” said Keith Alpaugh, a consultant for the Prosser Creek Charter School in Truckee, Calif., which uses Schoolsoft. Alpaugh said he investigated as many as 25 software information systems that are designed for or used by schools, but chose Schoolsoft because the company was better able to customize its system to a particular school’s needs. In addition to allowing parents to keep track of their children’s records, the Schoolsoft program allows the school to handle accounting tasks, such as monitoring how much the school spends on each child’s educational needs. Schoolsoft’s system was one-third cheaper than other school information systems, Alpaugh said, and the other systems wouldn’t have met Prosser Creek’s needs as well. While Schoolsoft is the Weldons’ latest venture, it is not their first. The brothers actually have been partners since 1991, previously in a company that helped people electronically apply for and receive their tax refund checks. But a 1995 change in tax regulations stymied the company’s chances for significant growth, Weldon said. The brothers sold that business and immediately began searching for new ideas. That’s when Weldon had the conversation with his neighbor about her son’s situation at school. Armed with the idea for a product, the brothers spent a year developing the software. During their research, they discovered that there was a market for more than just a way to improve the flow of information from the classroom to the parent. Schools wanted products, for example, that would link a student’s academic information with other internal databases, such as accounting. In addition, they discovered that different types of schools public, private and church schools had somewhat different informational needs. So the brothers developed their system so that it can be customized to fit a particular school’s needs. For example, a church-run school might wish to purchase the company’s ChurchSoft product, which integrates information about the student’s family such as their contributions, family relationships and history with church data. “We use (ChurchSoft), for example, to make sure we don’t duplicate church mailings and to keep track of information about the family,” said Linda Stewart, facilities administrator of Prince of Peace, a K-8 Lutheran school in Anaheim. “I like it because it pools church and school information into one system, which saves a lot of moving of paper.” She said she also uses ChurchSoft to search for such information as whether a child has a family member who is a plumber, when one is needed to fix a problem at the church. Weldon said his company is targeting private schools because they can make faster decisions about buying Schoolsoft products. The company has sold systems to about 10 Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, but those systems were purchased with funding from booster organizations and without funding from the district. “We’re working with private schools mainly, and in a few years we’ll have a better platform from which we can go after the public schools,” Weldon said.

Previous article
Next article

Featured Articles

Related Articles