The preferred way to change due dates in Destiny en masse

Destiny is the district-wide library system we use from Follett.

One common request I get is to update a due date for a large number of books.  Usually this is because a librarian has checked out textbooks but then the end of the school year changes by a day, or the original checkout date was incorrect.

If the due date is in the future, and you are on Destiny 9.9 or later, Destiny has a feature for this.  Simply click on the Circulation tab at the top, click the Renew tab at the left and select the By Date tab on the upper right (could there be any more tabs? Smile).  This allows you to find books due in the future by date and renew them in bulk.

If your due dates are already past, or if you need to filter your books using more detailed criteria Destiny has no built-in way to fix this.  You have to manually go to each checkout and change the due date.  When you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of books this can be prohibitive.

Destiny does, however, have what they call an Offline Circulation feature.  This is primarily used in case the Destiny server is unavailable but you still have to check in/out books to students.  You use a barcode scanner to scan in a checkout code, then scan the student’s ID and then finally the book they are checking out.  This creates a simple text file that you then upload into Destiny.  The really nice thing is that during the upload Destiny lets you select a date of the transaction.  So, if a mistake happened several weeks ago, you can set the date of the transaction to the day after, assuming that no transactions have happened on these books since the mistake.

The really nice perk about this is if you have had several hundred books marked as lost (because they were overdue for a long period of time) then you may have students with all sorts of fees on their records.  Simply checking out the books again to their accounts reverses all the fees and marks the books correctly as checked out.

But how do you create an Offline Circulation file for thousands of books?  Unfortunately Destiny doesn’t have a built-in way to do this either.

This is where SQL comes in. Smile  I’ve been working with the Destiny database directly in SQL for over 4 years for various reasons.  The Follett development staff do a good job of keeping it fairly well organized and understandable.

If you don’t have access to your Destiny database then buy lunch for one of your IT database admins and they’ll help you. Smile  We love free food.

Here is a sample script that will generate a Destiny Offline Circulation file.  It does this for all textbooks at a specific site that were marked lost on 4/24/2011.

-- Create Offline Circulation file to recheck-out all RVHS textbooks that were lost on 4/24/2011

SELECT  '%C125J' + char(13) -- Checkout to patron code
    + patronbarcode + char(13) -- Patron's barcode
    + copybarcode -- Textbook barcode
    copy c -- copy table
    join bibtextbook t on (c.bibid = t.bibid) -- textbooks only
    join sitepatron p on (c.patronid = p.patronid) -- patron table
    c.status = 200 -- only lost books
    and c.siteid = 215 -- only RVHS
    and p.status = 0 -- Active students only
    and datelost >= '2011-04-24'
    and datelost < '2011-04-25'
ORDER BY patronbarcode, copybarcode

The real magic is the ‘%C125J’ = char(13) portion.  This is the code that Destiny uses for checkout to patron.  The char(13) adds a line feed.  If you execute this and display the results as Text, rather than a table, you will get a line for the checkout code, a line for the patron’s barcode and an line for the textbook barcode.  This is formatted exactly like the Offline Circulation feature.

I hope this helps!

Business Intelligence vs. Political Correctness in Education

I work for the Val Verde Unified School District and the Riverside County SELPA.  If you don’t know what either of these are don’t worry, just know that we deal with A LOT of student and teacher related data.

That being said, the question that always comes up is, “How we can serve our students better?”  Many people have different ways of interpreting this, whether it is based on grades, overall improvement, discipline, where students head after they graduate, etc.

One area of my particular interest that is starting to seep into the education world is Business Intelligence (BI), or rather the art of turning vast amounts of data into something that is actually useful.  One of our Asst. Superintendents recently said he felt the district was “data rich and information poor”.  He was expressing his frustration that they had an incredible warehouse of data but it was very difficult to analyze or use.  This sounds like a perfect fit for BI.

What kind of data do we have?  Well, just in our Student Information System (we use Aeries from Eagle Software) for each student we have grades, attendance history, class history, demographics (race, address, contacts), test scores, Special Ed info, movement between schools, and discipline records just to name a few.  For our staff we have their classes taught and students in the classes.  We have several other databases as well such as our district-wide library database (we use Destiny from Follett Software), our ASB database that tracks all our student spending for sports, dances, yearbooks and debt and our HR database for staff that includes certifications, degrees, work history, evaluations, etc.

We also use GIS to map students onto our district map allowing a lot of decisions to be made regarding geographic information, such as where to build schools.

With this admin staff and teachers are already attempting to ask questions that will help identify target student groups for extra programs and such.  Some of the work they manually do, such as separating students that are known to disrupt classes if they are put in the same room together.  This is a great start but a far cry of what large companies are doing these days. 

Until recently this type of information analysis has been out of reach for school districts.  While the tools are inexpensive, such as the Microsoft BI stack, there has been very little ability to hire experienced staff or to train their current staff.

Beyond the simple resources though, the real problem is that too many people are concerned about the Political Correctness of the questions they ask.  If any of you have been following the debates in California you know there is a huge controversy over whether the current tenure system should be replaced with a merit based one.  In a merit based system if you don’t perform you may not have a job the next year.  The issue is how to evaluate a teacher’s performance.

Some staff in our district have definitely pushed the idea that we can just be objective and ask the hard questions, but as a culture I fear we are still to sensitive about the outcome.  In my opinion, to really move ahead you have to be willing to ask the tough questions and honestly look at the results.  Why not find out if there is any link between discipline, grades and perhaps where a student lives?  Other good questions are student performance vs the teachers and courses they have.  You always hear about teachers that excel with higher performing students as well as teachers that are great at motivating and educating “problem cases”.  Perhaps there is a link between student performance and debt they carry?  Perhaps there is a link between teacher’s overall class performance and the movement of the teacher’s position?

Imagine a time where a school district takes all this into account and is able to tailor a student’s journey through school based on the teachers and classmates that would be the most beneficial to everyone.  That would be pretty incredible.  As a parent I would love to hear that our school district is doing everything they can, including using BI, to help make sure that my sons and daughter, and their friends have the best environment and teaching for their strengths and weaknesses.  Perhaps a student is starting down a path that will lead to poor performance and more discipline events, and we can put in measures to help them correct their path before we are in the office discussing suspensions and possibly expulsion.  On the flip-side, imagine an incoming teacher knowing they are in a district where their position and students are fine-tuned to provide the most optimal teaching environment for everyone. 

To me that would be pretty incredible.

As some of you know it is my desire to become the Director of IT and this is one area I would really like to see improved.