Gateway Public Schools is a college preparatory, public charter school organization dedicated to serving San Francisco’s diverse student population. Built over 20 years ago on the dream to create a gateway to college for all students regardless of background, income or learning style, the organization has proudly sent 96% of its graduates to college.
Since opening the high school in 1998, Gateway has continued to identify new ways to have an impact on education. The organization has grown to include Gateway Public Middle School and Gateway Impact, a platform where tools, curriculum, and best practices can be shared with a larger community of public school educators, and students.
Time off tracking for school employees doesn’t seem overly complicated when considering regular school holidays and planned summer vacations. However, Chris Hero, the Chief Operating Officer for Gateway Public Schools offered some insight into the challenges of managing a diverse workforce that serves a population of over 800 students.
"It would have been much easier if we were all teachers on the same schedule, but we have different types of employees; we have year-round employees, 11-month employees, and we have school-year employees—and all those folks have different accrual levels and different holidays." - Chris
With over 100 employees, including teachers and non-teachers, Gateway was looking for an intuitive time management system that fit the organization’s budget. The caveat was that this easy-to-use platform would also need to handle the complexity of its workforce.
"We really wanted something that was affordable that could focus on just the basic need to track time. We have a complicated workforce but we’re not a complicated organization, in terms of needing fancy systems." - Chris
Gateway was using two separate systems to track time off for teachers and non-teachers. The existing processes were time-consuming and left room for human error, but at the same time, there was a reluctance to invest in a new system.
"Schools are notoriously slow in the adoption of technology. People thought it was ridiculous that we were pushing paper and spreadsheets around, but we are also very careful because there are a lot of gloves that didn’t fit in terms of [the systems] being too expensive, too complex, having too many modules, or they’re too simplistic and don’t meet the needs of our complex organization. Finding something right there in the middle is challenging." - Chris
In addition to paper timesheets and Excel spreadsheets, emails were being sent manually to submit time off requests. Without a system in place to manage and record the request and approval process, miscommunications happened and the right people were sometimes not notified of an absence.
Photo from gatewaypublicschools.org
This inefficiency of a manual request and approval process left the team with inconsistent records. Gateway was faced with the inability to offer employees up-to-date information. The delayed processing of data created ambiguity around an employee’s account balance. Employees were not always sure if they had sufficient time available to use and managers questioned whether a request should be approved.
"It was challenging because [our process] included many more steps. Ultimately, we had to have an accounting person who compiled data off of hard copy sheets into spreadsheets in Excel. And then, of course, it wasn’t contemporaneous with people’s current account balances...maybe there would be two weeks before the spreadsheet was updated. There were always periods of time where it didn’t have current information for folks." - Chris
The process for tracking a teacher’s absence resulted in an even greater delay to keep balances updated. From the time a teacher was out to the time the substitute’s invoice passed through payroll, it may be a month before this teacher’s absence was actually recorded on the spreadsheet, updating their account balance.
Gateway was looking for an intuitive, easy to use system that focused on providing the solution it needed most: data tracking around time off and providing a process for approving time off requests. Built for Teams’ PTO product offered Gateway an affordable solution that could handle the complexity of its time management, without requiring an investment in additional products.
"With so many types of employees with different types of time off to track, our needs were too complex or seemingly too complex for some of the other solutions. This was really the best solution for us because it’s simple in the sense that we aren’t over-committing to a bunch of other components and modules that we don’t need or want." - Chris
The PTO product allowed Gateway to customize an unlimited amount of time off policies to manage its unique workforce. This flexibility has given Chris confidence that Built for Teams will continue to meet the organization’s future challenges.
Photo from gatewaypublicschools.org
Providing customizable policies was just one piece of the solution to improve processes unique to a school organization. When handling a teacher’s absence, the involvement of multiple employees is required to make sure a classroom is covered. Built for Teams needed to provide a better communication platform for Chris and his team.
"When a teacher is out it needs to trigger the replacement. There needs to be someone actually there when they are out, which is very different from when a non-teaching employee is out." - Chris
Commonly a teacher’s absence is not planned, making the timeliness of a system’s notification process extremely valuable. Gateway takes advantage of Built for Teams’ advanced notification system which allows customization of who is immediately informed when an employee submits a time off request.
"(It’s important) being able to build in the right notification system so that when a teacher requests time off it goes to the person who is in charge of requesting subs and it goes to their supervisor. This flexibility of it going to a handful of folks makes it so everyone can still do their work." - Chris
Through increased automation, Gateway has enjoyed a significant reduction of time spent collecting and processing data. Built for Teams’ automated system has not only eliminated steps from the organization’s original process but has also provided better records for the organization.
"This for us is our first step into the 21st century of managing our data, but we also recognize that we aren’t going to just throw money at other things that aren’t necessary. This product just felt necessary because of the amount of human hours that it reduced in the processing and pushing of this data, and making it available to employees in a transparent way." - Chris
All employees now have access to historical information when necessary. With a system that creates records of all transactions, the entire team can now appreciate the transparency of this important data.
"We didn’t necessarily do it for the employees originally but that has become just as much a return on our investment as all of the operational advantages. The employees really value that they can manage their time better and have access to up-to-date records." - Chris
Photo from gatewaypublicschools.org
The employees at Gateway are thrilled with the ability to login to Built for Teams and view their balances whenever they want. Chris believes offering this access to real-time data has been an important step for the organization.
"It’s almost viewed to be as valuable as online banking. It’s kind of synonymous to empowering employees to have access to important information that they didn’t have access to before." - Chris
Gateway Public Schools proudly facilitates opportunities for collaboration and professional development. Their commitment to teachers’ growth has resulted in a 90% retention rate annually. An investment in Built for Teams has proven to be another way Gateway provides its employees with tools that empower them.
"It’s an important tool for our employees because I think they really feel more empowered with managing their time. Your time is an important asset for you professionally and personally, so if you are able to manage it better then I think that is appreciated." - Chris