Lakota's Enrollment Center staff. From left: Lori Nelson, Judy Martin,
Noelia Hernandez, Kimberly Tobak, Paula Heinly, Lori Green and
One might consider the small building tucked away on the south side of Cincinnati-Dayton Road one of Lakota’s best-kept secrets.
The well-oiled machine that is Lakota’s Enrollment Center – and quickly evolving into the district’s main data center –
wasn’t manufactured overnight either. In fact, what makes up the warm, yet efficient operation one finds inside was built slowly and methodically by two women who had a vision for what the Center could be – and a team of five people who stuck with them through a very trying transition.
“We didn’t just change the paint color,” joked EMIS Specialist & Enrollment Center Manager Pam Zeigler, who was joined early on in her new role by Director of Fiscal Compliance & Accountability Lori Green. “We all worked together to change the whole environment.”
That environment is one that combines a warm welcome to more than 700 new families each year and more recently, a new focus that has created a monumental shift in the way Lakota manages its staff and student data to maximize state funding allowances. For the first time, both functions have been brought under one roof, introducing efficiencies that translate to substantial cost savings.
“I equate the recent changes to the Enrollment Center’s operations to hundreds of thousands of dollars in recovered funding and direct savings to the school district,” said Lakota Treasurer Jenni Logan, who Green and Zeigler credit significantly with the vision for the Center’s new dual-purpose role. “And I only expect that number to grow as we continue fine-tuning our processes.”
Hundreds of codes, such as limited English proficient, disabilities of varying degrees, economically disadvantaged, and gifted, for example, define student demographics through a state-mandated system called EMIS. Many of those codes, reported to the state periodically throughout the year, translate to direct funding for a school district to help offset students who may require additional resources. Inaccurate coding translates to lost funding, some of which was recovered through the Center’s new practices for entering and maintaining data as an extension of the enrollment process.
In the last year alone, the data side of the Center’s operations identified and submitted nearly 70 filings for students with what the state defines as high dollar disabilities, recovering almost $290,000 in state funding to support such students.
Beyond EMIS-related savings, other operational efficiencies have resulted in direct savings, but also contributed to a more seamless and positive overall experience for the people walking through their doors.
“It’s been a little bit of everything really…just the slightest fine tuning to our workflow and the way we do business,” said Green, likening their operation to that of a doctor’s office.
Those efficiencies involve a whole host of changes: different hours of operation to accommodate more families’ availability, a new approach to open enrollment and kindergarten registration, redefining their team member’s roles in the enrollment process and increased advance communication.
They are changes that in the last year added up to some big results, too. During their busiest time – the 26 days leading up to the start of school – the Center processed 733 new enrollees and 350 information updates (such as address or custody changes.) The most impressive part of that work: Student information was current in the data system at the end of each business day and all with only 30 hours of overtime, as compared to 310 hours the previous year.
Open enrollment was another time in which a change to the process had families waiting to submit their application in and out within half an hour. That’s in contrast to the chaotic scene that historically took over the Center on this day for many long hours.
Those results go a long way when you consider all the other operations district-wide that rely on the Enrollment Center as a data entry point. The newfound efficiency sets in motion other operations like bus routes, class placement and staffing needs, for example, all of which are the mercy of student enrollment figures.
Still, just as important as anything is the lasting first impression with families.
“We’re extremely proud of what we’ve created here, together as a team,” Zeigler said. “When our visitors are all leaving here smiling, that’s what we care about most. It’s our clearest signal that what we’ve done is making a difference.”