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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Two Students, One Master Schedule and a Big Solution

By Isaiah Zupke & Kevin Wuest — June 14, 2017 4 min read
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Today’s post is co-written by Isaiah Zupke and Kevin Wuest, recent graduates of Fond du Lac High School (Wisconsin).

Fond du Lac High School (FHS) is one of the largest high schools in the state of Wisconsin. It utilizes an Enrichment/Intervention period during each school day which allows students to sign-up for different teachers and classes that can provide them with additional assistance or other academic opportunities. Unfortunately, the school was using an online scheduler that proved its inefficiencies over and over. For example, students and staff would log-on to schedule for the week ahead and find themselves waiting and waiting for their requests to process which then resulted in reduced academic/curricular time in class. The root cause of these unnecessary frustrations for both the students and staff were slow load times and incessant unpatched bugs.

As a junior at FHS, I looked at this problem and used the engineering skills that I had acquired over my years in school and strived for a solution. When I thought I had one, I found my business colleague, Kevin, and we went to the drawing board. Only 100 days after the initial meeting with the school, my company’s product, Rebentify Scheduling, launched to serve more than 2,100 students and 130 teachers, who sign onto its web page daily. Because the school district trusted our team with building this program, we have learned considerable amounts of professional programming and business development that couldn’t be taught in a class. We are sharing our story so that other schools can create opportunities for students like Kevin and I who want to do something unique and meaningful but need district support.

The whole thing began when my assistant principal set up a meeting for my team with our head principal and the business director for our school district. We were bearing a laptop presentation and a stack of crude, hand-drawn sketches of what we thought the website could look like. Even with our informalities, Fond du Lac High School decided to move forward, trusting two zit-faced high schoolers with building them a scheduling program. At the age of 17, we were getting an opportunity to build a real-world programming solution that would be used by thousands of individuals every week. The administration gave us a learning opportunity that is far beyond what we would learn in an ordinary classroom, no matter how good the teacher. It was also really uplifting to be treated as mature individuals by the administration. After our meeting with the school, they were completely enthused; they offered us 100 days to complete this program (they wanted it done before second semester). It seemed to be an unrealistic expectation, but we decided to run with it anyway because we knew what we were capable of.

Launch day came--well, one of them--and my team was completely prepared! We had upgraded our servers to a five-server solution the night before; however, when we got to school to test, everything was offline. There was a bug with our servers that caused our website to appear offline. We heard the dreaded voice of our assistant principal come over the intercom, telling students to sign up on our competitor’s program. One week later, our second launch day came, and we were ready--and nervous: really, really nervous. Roughly eight minutes before students would have begun using our program, our principal came over the intercom informing us that, for the first time in over nine years, school would be cancelled early due to severe weather.

That week we got an email from our assistant principal who said “Next week is the week :),” and my colleague and I were, once again, scared. We agreed that we wanted to form a good reputation with the high school, so we spent money that our company didn’t have on a server that was extremely powerful. When the day came, when we went live. Everything worked! It was an indescribable happiness that came over my colleague and me. We sat back in our chairs and watched as our server surfed right over the hundreds of students who were logging onto our program every minute. We had solved the problems that existed with our school’s scheduling software by custom building a program for them in an seemingly impossible timeframe.

Skipping to the present, our program has had 100% uptime while school is in operation. We have released more than 21 updates that have created over 50 new features that were requested by students, teachers and administrators. As for my partner and I, we have learned so much about programming, development, customer relations, business management, taxes, legal work, etc.

Now my colleague and I are ready for the next venture. We will be showcasing our product in a trade show this summer as we are hoping to commercialize Rebentify Scheduling to schools around the United States so that we can save students, teachers, and administrators time and money with our scheduling solution. Ultimately, we have created a platform that allows teachers to create appropriate interventions for 2,200 students that varies from day to day in a timely manner.

One of the most astonishing parts of this development process--the part that really made the whole thing happen--was that the school district took a leap of faith with two juniors who had narrow programming backgrounds. Now, the school district has their scheduling issues fixed, and my colleague and I are leaving high school, both with jobs as software engineering interns and with real world programming experience to fortify our resumes.

We believe that Rebentify can assist more school districts optimize their RtI and other intervention scheduling. If you are interested in hearing more about Rebentify Scheduling, please feel free to reach out to me at isaiah@rebentify.com

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.