REACH Software Simplifies Dorm Sign-Outs

After around a year of discussion on converting the current seemingly archaic sign-out system to a convenient electronic version, Mr. Morris hopes to implement the REACH Boarding School Software this spring term. Earlier in this school year, Choate had to decide whether or not to use software from REACH or software from Choate students; the school eventually decided on the former due to its increased capabilities.

Originally, Choate was considering using sign-out software that Patrick Kage ’16 created. In December 2015, Kage talked to Mr. Stanley about an idea he had to modernize the sign-out process: “I talked with Mr. Stanley and tried to get something in motion. I wrote the application over a few weekends. It wasn’t super intricate,” Patrick recalled. “Essentially, the Dean’s Assistant would initiate the process, followed by the students, who would fill out their information, then lock their information into the database to have the house adviser and Dean sign it.”

There were some glaring problems with Kage’s proposed application. “Virtually anyone could log on.” He elaborated, “There was no system to verify whether the e-mail was valid or not. There were similar problems with determining the identity of the adviser and dean.”

Nevertheless, the school approved the idea to modernize the sign-out process. Mr. Will Morris, Dean of Residential Life, explained, “It is well known that the current sign-out system is byzantine. We recognized the problem and knew that there had to be a better way to sign out that was efficient for both the students and the faculty.”

Kage continued to work on this project, talking to the school’s Information Technology Services. Together, they developed a system that was ready to beta test.

At about the same time, an outside vender called REACH Boarding School Software contacted Choate. ITS compared the REACH software with the software Kage developed, and by September, the department had decided that REACH was more robust and secure.

According to Mr. Morris, “The current system accomplishes a clear chain of accountability—it is the primary responsibility of a boarding school to know the whereabouts of every single student at curfew each night. The new system maintains this accountability, but do it in a way that is more efficient for everyone involved, particularly students.” He noted, “Peer schools have run pilots with this software and have been pleased.”

However, the conversion to the REACH sign-out system hasn’t been simple. Mr. Morris stated, “The biggest obstacle has been incorporating everyone that is involved in the sign-out process in an organized manner. All of the actors in the process needed to be able to connect efficiently: the student, the parents, the house advisor, the dean.” Moreover, several scenarios were possible in the sign-out process, based on an individual’s circumstances: “A student missing more than one class day required more people, for example, a teacher, a coach, or the Director of Studies.”

After trying to set up the software in November, REACH realized that its program could not accommodate the large number of people that are usually in the Choate sign-out process. The company began developing a more robust system, which is currently in the beta-testing stage. Mr. Morris anticipates a conference call with the go-ahead to begin internal testing to a couple of dorms, and, if that’s successful, a pilot test for the entire school.

A benefit of the new system will be the ability to access sign-out permissions simultaneously by all parties. The forms can be accessed via iPad, iPhone, or laptop; house advisers, deans, and parents will be able to either approve or deny the sign-out that at their fingertips. However, according to Mr. Morris, the sign-out system will still require a form of face-to-face interaction with a Dean’s assistant to verbally verify the details.

REACH will also be able to inform house advisers and prefects who is on campus throughout the week via a digital house log to expedite checking-in during the start of study hours and curfew.

Mr. Morris commented, “In principle, the new system will give us the flexibility needed to replace the current sign-out system effectively. It remains to be seen what it will look like. There’s always a dip of issues encountered in the implementation of any system.”

Mr. Morris plans to incorporate features of the new sign-out system in staggered stages, depending on the success of the system. He aims to run pilot tests in dorms such as Tenney and Bernhard House in the spring, followed by more tests in the summer. By fall 2016, Mr. Morris hopes that the whole campus will adapt to this new sign-out system.

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