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NSSD server failures

crash Power School

 

Major effort by district IT and faculty restores data

 

By Suzanne Dean

Publisher

Feb. 1, 2018

 

MT. PLEASANT—The North Sanpete School District has weathered a huge computer crash that knocked out Power School as well as the program that tracks finances at the school level.

The crash occurred on Jan. 11 as the district was reconfiguring its servers. The district had made a full backup of its files on Dec. 24, 2017. But the backups “weren’t as current as we wanted,” Superintendent Sam Ray said last week.

With the help of a consultant, the IT staff was able to recover a good share of the lost data. But student assignments and grades recorded between Dec. 24 and Jan. 11 were gone.

That affected four teachers at North Sanpete High School who had not completed entry of second-term grades to Power School before Christmas break.

And it had a big impact at North Sanpete Middle School, which is on a different schedule than all other schools in the district. At the middle school, the term doesn’t end until mid January.

So between Jan. 3, when students returned after the break and Jan. 11, when the outage occurred, students were turning in a lot of assignments, and teachers were catching up on grading and entering assignments in Power School. All of those entries were lost.

“We know this is frustrating for everyone,” Superintendent Sam Ray wrote in an email to faculty and staff the day the problem occurred. “…The silver lining, and we know this is of little or no consolation to most of you, is that we have learned a lot of important lessons to mitigate the possibility of a repeat.”

Ray, who was interviewed on Wednesday, Jan. 24, a week and a half after the data loss happened, said he was in a meeting Jan. 11 with district staff and, ironically, with a consultant from Springville who was one of the authors of the Power School program now used by schools nationwide.

The group was exploring a possible change in the district grading system, including how such a change could be incorporated into Power School.

That was when the superintendent got a call from the secretary who oversees the Power School program saying, in Ray’s words, “Our Power School’s down and we don’t know why, or how far or how big.”

Most students and parents are familiar with the function in Power School that lets them log in and see what assignments are in and current grades in each class.

But the “back end” of Power School does a lot more. It serves as the record of each student’s class schedule. And it tracks overall enrollment data that is submitted to the Utah State Office of Education as the basis for state funding.

The weekend following the data loss was a three-day weekend because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The Springville consultant, Richard James, and the IT staff worked through the weekend.

Ray said they were able to recover all student schedules, including North Sanpete High School schedules for the new term. And it turned out “it wasn’t too hard to reconstruct” enrollment data.

IT and other staff were also able to recover nearly all school financial records, such school lunch payments, Ray said. The schools had hard-copy records covering the data that was lost.

The main problem was at the middle school, where teachers had to do a substantial amount of reentry into Power School.

“We’re doing what we can to help them get caught up,” Ray said. The district postponed the deadline for submitting second term grades to the end of February. And the district offered each teacher a substitute for one day so the teacher could spend the day reconstructing assignment and grade records.

By Thursday, Feb. 25, reentry of data was complete. Parents and students were again able to log in to Power School. The district invited them to check records for accuracy.

The computer problem occurred while the IT staff was converting a bank of servers, each of which held certain programs, to a “server farm,” where all data is stored simultaneously on several servers using redundancy to prevent the very kind of data loss that occurred.

The whole purpose of the conversion was to prevent data loss “and it was the conversion that caused the glitch,” Ray said.

The Power School crash notwithstanding, Ray said the district had made a lot of progress in the IT area since he became superintendent in July 2014.

When he came on board, the district had only one IT employee. Now it has five, which is still half the level recommended for the number of devices being supported.

“Overall, we have made huge progress not only in technical support but in the number of devices” available to faculty, staff and students, including individual iPads for most middle and high school students, he said.