When you think about technological innovation, names like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon probably come to mind. You most likely don’t put your local school district in that category, but Bethel’s Technology Department is trying to change that.
The department’s programmers recently unveiled a one-of-a-kind computer program that has the potential to revolutionize the way our district’s Transportation Department operates.
A little background first: Bethel’s Transportation Department is responsible for getting more than 10,000 students to and from school every day. It’s a big, diverse department that needs to run efficiently in order to get kids where they need to be on time.
Historically, the district has used a mixture of high tech and low tech solutions to keep everything moving. If Transportation Director Karen Campbell needed to talk to a bus driver, she would leave a sticky note on the driver’s mail box asking them to stop by her office for a chat. Drivers would hand-write their hours for the week and deliver them to department headquarters, where someone else would painstakingly enter them into into a computer program.
The new software takes all of those issues — dispatching, payroll, student discipline, driver communication — and puts them in a single computer program that connects drivers and administrators at both the school and department level.
The software allows drivers to log their own time, write and submit discipline reports, and communicate with school staff. It’s one-stop shopping for all things transportation.
It’s called Transcribe and, somewhat confusingly, it replaces a nearly 15-year-old program that’s also called Transcribe. The two programs share a name, but not much else. The original program was essentially gutted and rebuilt from the ground up.
The genesis of Transcribe 2.0 came several years ago when Campbell and members of her team began working with programers in the district’s Technology Department on ways to fix the old program.
But instead of simply fixing it, they decided to think bigger — they would create their own proprietary software tailored to the Transportation Department’s needs and its complex collective bargaining agreement with drivers.
It was a big idea, but one that senior systems analyst Matthew Litwin thought his department was capable of completing.
“Bethel always seems to be leading the way,” Litwin said. “We’ve been that way since I’ve been here and even before. Our Technology Department has always been one of the best departments in the region.”
At first Litwin chipped away at the program mostly on his own, but he knew reinforcements would eventually be needed. He was soon joined by programmers Blake Larson, Lucas Harlor and Cory Burt, and away they went.
“Once we had a full compliment of programmers, that’s when the team really got into this storming phase where we knew what we were doing, we’re working well together, and we’re starting to develop a product and seeing real results,” said Chad Marlow, Bethel’s Director of Operational Technology.
The team worked incredibly hard to build out a program that had the needed functionality and usability. Programers spent days on end at the Transportation Department to find out exactly what employees needed from the software.
“Honestly, we’re like best friends with Transportation now because we’ve been talking to them so much,” said Larson.
When they finally handed over the finished Transcribe 2.0 late last summer, the programers held their breath and waited to see how it worked in real world situations. To call it a success would be an understatement.
“There’s not another program out there like this,” said Stutheit.
Aubrie Montgomery, secretary to the Director of Transportation, is incredibly grateful for the new Transcribe. Prior to its arrival, she spent hours every day entering data into various outside programs. Because Transcribe 2.0 puts much of that data entry into the hands of drivers, Montgomery can now dedicate her time to other important work.
“It’s been absolutely freeing,” she said. “Data input is slow and cumbersome and ridiculous and so outdated.”
The program has only been live since August, so everyone is still getting used to it, but Campbell said word has already begun to spread in the school transportation industry.
“Every other school district that has come to see this has been in awe,” she said.
On top of all the time it’s saving, Transcribe 2.0 is also saving money. Without it, the department would have to subscribe to several costly programs to do all of the things Transcribe 2.0 can do.
“Having our team build this and monitor it, we’re saving taxpayers a huge amount of money each year,” Stutheit said.