Harris School Solutions

How to Become a Paperless School (Case Study)

There’s no shortage of reasons to go paperless, the most obvious of which is that it’s proven to save time and money in nearly countless ways; however, if you don’t go about making the switch methodically and carefully, it could backfire and end up costing you more than it saves you.

Using as an example Southwest Preparatory School District (SWP), a Harris School Solutions client and charter in San Antonio that has successfully integrated a number of paperless systems, let’s look at the smart way to go about the process.

Step 1 – What’s your goal?

First, you need to begin with the end in mind. If you don’t, your decisions throughout the process will be arbitrary.

SWP began by identifying goals that would help move them in the right direction, including:

  • Reduce administrative expenses while increasing efficiency.
  • Put money to use in a way that helps with sustainability (e.g. on-going marketing plans, additional programs, expansion, rainy day funds, etc.)

Step 2 – Reverse engineer the plan and proceed in phases.

The loftier your goals, the more time it takes to move the needle. Don’t rush. Instead, figure out which changes you need to make to reach your goal, and then segment them into phases.

SWP’s phases looked like this:

2010 – Change to new SIS provider. (More on this in a moment.)

2011 – Electronic Attendance

2013 – Electronic Records Storage (Student Side)

2014 – Electronic Onboarding (Students)

2016 – Electronic Onboarding (Employees)

2017 – Move to Gmail

2017 – Continue to explore additional opportunities to integrate technology solutions with SIS (time and attendance and the Child Nutrition program) while consolidating providers.

Step 3 – Do your due diligence.

In each phase, you will have considerations to make that are unique to that phase. Some, like when to implement, will be part of each phase. Others, though, will apply only to a particular phase. For the electronic storage phase, for example, how will you handle your existing records? For digital time and attendance, on the other hand, how comfortable will your teachers be with the new system?

The best way to approach each phase is to create a new list of considerations.

The first phase is the most important, since it will dictate what you can do in all the other phases. SWP, for example, switched as many software vendors as possible to one provider.

Using a single provider for as much as possible helped SWP to:

  • have more one-on-one attention from the provider (including with Help Desk support)
  • get programming tailored to their needs
  • increase integration
  • save even more time and money
  • eliminate confusion

Let’s look at SWP’s considerations for this all-important first phase, “Changing to a new SIS provider.”

  • Develop a committee to review potential providers and make final selections.
  • Schedule presentations with each solution provider.
  • How will we handle data transfers?
  • What level of security can they provide?
  • Can they meet our charter’s specialized needs?

It’s particularly important to bring in all relevant stakeholders in each phase so that you can look at the transition from every side and avoid missing any key considerations.

Step 4 – Repeat!

Once you implement one phase, start planning for the next. When you’ve reached your goal (going paperless), set a new technology goal. Keep optimizing and you’ll be surprised at how far you can take your school.


Looking one last time at SWP, here’s how they fared in terms of going paperless:

2010 – 2018

Efficiency (per campus)



Registrars 2 1 (-5 FTEs)
Attendance Clerks 1 0 (-5 FTEs)
HR Directors 1 .5 (-.5 FTEs)
IT Director 1 0 (-1 FTE)
Records Officer .5 0 (-.5 FTE)
Instructional Materials .5 0 (-.5 FTE)
Data Quality Specialist 1 0 (-1 FTE)
Days Cash on Hand 35 80
Reduction of 14.5 FTEs

($455,000 annual savings)

This isn’t to say SWP has shrunk. The exact opposite has happened, in fact. During this transition to paperless systems alone, SWP added two more campuses and expanded several others. What began as a small charter school with just 23 students now serves 800 students across 6 schools. It’s precisely because they are so efficient that they’ve been able to grow.

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