Agora Cyber Charter School

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Education Enhanced with Microsoft Expertise

Agora Cyber Charter School, established in 2005, is an online public school for Pennsylvania students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Through personalized, online learning, its certified teachers provide an innovative and intensive academic preparation to prepare students to become lifelong learners. With more than 7,000 students enrolled, Agora also offers online and in-person activities to ensure a well-rounded educational experience, replete with accompanying social activities.
Agora Cyber Charter School

Challenges

As a public school, Agora is funded by state tax dollars, and therefore has to comply with rules regarding notification to School Districts of students graduating or withdrawing. The Registrar’s Withdraw Letter process relied on manual look-ups and validation of student information which would then be pulled into multiple excel spreadsheets for use in a mail merge to generate the final report.

Student information would be housed in two different SharePoint folders and pulled from email data to populate excel spreadsheets for each of the three data sources. Each of the three resulting spreadsheets would be merged first into the main template, then into the standardized letter, then to the school district emails. The resulting product would have to then be emailed to the school district and mailed to the student’s parents separately.

Managing the withdrawal and other processes this way proved extremely time consuming and required the dedication of full-time employees to accomplish. Realizing the massive amount of resources these processes required, the Agora team enlisted the help of their long time partners at Weidenhammer to develop alternative, streamlined solutions.

Solutions

Hammer Dev started this project by reviewing and documenting the existing process Agora was using to manage its withdrawal letter process. It was discovered that several reports and SharePoint lists were gathered from various sources, copied into several spreadsheets, and run through several Excel Macros to create a consolidated file that is then fed into a reporting process to generate letters to be sent to each school district. After the review was completed, the team determined a simpler and more automated process could be implemented. it was proposed that various sources of information could be collected in an automated way, aggregated in an Azure SQL Server environment, then a consolidated download file could be delivered for further processing.

Rather than relying on three different tables to house data on active students, withdrawals, and withdrawal contact information, the eventual solution included process automation using Azure Data Factories, Power Automate Desktop (RPA – Robotic Process Automation) and Power Apps to replace the manual copy of CSV files and Excel Macros. The streamlined reports would provide a list of contacts that match current mail merge fields and one that contains errors which require follow-up. When coupled with a SharePoint list solution to manage current withdrawal status, the Agora team could quickly and easily generate new letters to be sent to the necessary school districts.

Results

The most immediate benefit the Agora team experienced was dramatically reducing the effort of dedicated employee resources to the management of the withdrawal letter process. Further, the automation made it possible to reduce the time and resources it took to evaluate student information for new withdrawals, review the information for accuracy, and then generate the necessary documentation to ensure compliance with the school district’s policies. The implementation of the RPA solution also enabled more workflows to be streamlined, further freeing up full-time employees to focus their efforts on high-impact tasks rather than manually managing spreadsheets.

The Agora team valued the improvements made by the Hammer Dev team and they continue to maintain the relationship following the completion of this project.

Weidenhammer is an instrumental component of Agora Cyber Charter School’s development into a Microsoft centric organization.  As our go-to developer and consultant, Weidenhammer has been key to our ability to meet seen and unforeseen demands placed upon our organization as they occur.

Mike Rublesky, Chief Technology Officer – Agora Cyber Charter School
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