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Apple Renews K-12 Commitment with PowerSchool

By Elizabeth Millard MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 8, 2004 2:30 AM PT

Three years ago, Apple acquired PowerSchool, a company that develops student information systems (SIS), for US$62 million, around the same time it was seeing its presence in the education market erode.

Apple Renews K-12 Commitment with PowerSchool

With PowerSchool, Apple hopes not only to put a Mac in every student's hands. The company hopes that this SIS app will also offer students a way to stay connected, and a way for teachers and administrators to manage workloads, accounting, scheduling and parent communication.

The growth of PowerSchool has another effect, besides streamlining school processes. It provides Apple with a means to recapture its lead in a market it once dominated.

Good Buy, Apple

A few years ago, Dell and other technology companies began to enter schools, offering aggressive pricing to gain a foothold in the market. This happened about the same time that many primary and secondary schools were expressing discontentment with Apple. In particular, administrators and teachers complained about faulty hardware and changes in educational pricing, and brand loyalty faltered.

Bob Longo, PowerSchool president, told MacNewsWorld that, in many ways, the purchase of the company was a demonstration that Apple wanted to recommit to education customers.

"They wanted to send a message to the education market that they were dedicated to providing total systems for K-12 market plays," Longo said. He pointed out that Apple's decision to acquire PowerSchool was more than just an easy way to reclaim its education customers.

"If all they were trying to do was get the word out that they were recommitting their efforts for schools, they could have just run ads," he said. "Considering how much they spent for the company, it would have been a lot cheaper."

Instead, Apple has been integrating PowerSchool into its educational strategy, and winning back some of those who were grumbling not so long ago.

Platform Agnostic

One of the main advantages for schools that choose to implement PowerSchool is that the application works on any platform. In an era when many schools are blending their technology, this may provide long-term benefits for Apple.

Even when Apple had more significant share in the educational market, the company still encountered schools that were hesitant to go Mac. With PowerSchool, institutions do not have to make the hardware leap and can mix their technologies with ease.

"Some districts are simply Mac-averse," said Matt Federoff, director of technology at the Vail School District in Arizona. "PowerSchool works, whether you use Macs or not."

Longo noted that this sort of platform independence sends an important message to the market -- that Apple is not looking to dominate schools' technology needs, but rather, to address their current issues.

Competitive Advantage

In addition to its ability to play well with others, PowerSchool is considered by many to be the leader of the pack when it comes to SIS.

"It has no real competition," said Tanya Pfeffer, PowerSchool administrator for Breck School, a private college-preparatory school in Minnesota. "There aren't any comparable systems that are able to match it."

Although there are smaller players in the SIS industry, Longo called PowerSchool the major force in this space.

"When I first came into the company, nobody liked their SIS. It's a very fragmented market that has local and regional players, but even the big guys have set a fairly low bar in terms of quality," he said.

Since PowerSchool has been continually upgrading the product and increasing system stability, the combination of PowerSchool's product development with Apple's sales and distribution efforts makes for a powerful combination, Longo continued.

Growing Enthusiasm

Apple's recommitment to the education market is beginning to be noticed by more schools making new SIS purchases -- a trend that may likely continue.

"Apple seemed to just sit on PowerSchool for a few years after they bought it. But in the last year, there's been a big change," Federoff noted. According to him, Apple appears to be putting more energy into sales efforts and better pricing and making more of an effort to meet the needs of individual schools.

And recent legislation may help contribute to a rosier future for PowerSchool and Apple. President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" mandate requires schools to keep better track of student data, necessitating implementation of an SIS system. Since PowerSchool leads the market, it is well-positioned to have even more share than it does now.

Love to Love You

Even better for PowerSchool's future is the fact that teachers, administrators, students and parents embrace the application with seemingly equal fervor.

"Most superintendents tell me that they couldn't take it away from parents if they tried," Longo said.

Other tech administrators, like Federoff and Pfeffer, report similar enthusiasm from PowerSchool users. In both districts, users appreciate the system's ability to give real-time grade information, provide detailed student data and allow parents to communicate directly with teachers.

Cynthia LaPier, CIO of Nebraska's Plainedge School District, told MacNewsWorld that PowerSchool has changed the way schools operate, and boosts communication with parents.

"It's decentralized that whole student information process, so everyone can access it. That makes parents more involved, and kids more responsible," she said.

For his part, Federoff said PowerSchool is not a perfect application, adding that it has several limitations he hopes Apple will hammer out in the near future. On the whole, however, he thinks that as PowerSchool use becomes more widespread, it will benefit not only Apple, but education in general.

"Having parents involved, and having school administrator and teachers able to do their jobs more effectively means kids do better in school," Federoff said. "And that's good for everybody."

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