What is Rafiki SIS?
- Rafiki SIS is an open source parent, student, teacher, and administrator portal connected to and extending
the functionality of PowerSchool SIS.
- Rafiki SIS is developed in a modular way to keep the integration with PowerSchool clean, simple, and separate from its
own functionality. Thus Rafiki SIS could be integrated with other products in the future or even become a stand-alone product.
- RAFIKI, the Swahili word for FRIEND, was chosen to represent the shared nature of the development of this project,
the African roots of this project, and the hope that this tool will improve communication and relationship
in the educational realm.
Why build Rafiki SIS?
- Rift Valley Academy recently purchased and installed PowerSchool to provide better assessment information to students,
and parents, and to have a more powerful scheduling tool. Unfortunately, beyond those two significant benefits,
PowerSchool has not been as good for our school as we hoped.
- After revisiting our decision and the alternatives available, we concluded that there is no perfect SIS.
Since PowerSchool provides some good features at an affordable price, we decided that we should make the best use of it
that we could.
- We are happy with PowerSchool's integrated, web-based gradebook (PowerTeacher), and the powerful scheduling
tools, but we're disappointed in
some of the other features and especially in some of the data structure and data integrity of PowerSchool.
- We decided that we could use PowerTeacher and PowerScheduler, but build our own system for most of the rest of
the functionality that we need. Anticipating that other schools may have similar needs, we are sharing our efforts
through this project.
The Rafiki SIS Plan?
- Within in the next 12 months, we intend to build out the following functionality in this approximate order:
- Data structures to store more complete student, parent, teacher, and enrollment data in a more normalized data structure than the PowerSchool database.
- Screens (web pages) to manage that data and push it to PowerSchool.
- Email System to push Progress Reports and Grade Report Cards to parents (in addition to allowing parents to access an online portal).
- Parent Portal We are not satisfied with the PowerSchool Parent Portal so we're building our own. This will not only provide parents (and in our case dorm parents) with more efficient access to student information, it will allow parents to keep their own data (addresses, permissions, guardians, etc.) up-to-date.
- Student and Teacher Portals? At present we think the PowerSchool portals for students and teachers are acceptable, but after we do the work for the parent portal, we might revisit this thinking.
- Admissions and Enrollment module Our school needs a tool to track new and returning students and wait-lists over multiple years include information about dorms and boarding.
- Student Health Data PowerSchool has a health module, but by default, their Parent Portal does not touch it. We decided it would be easier to build our own and include it in our parent portal.
- Discipline and Behavior Data Again PowerSchool has functionality for this, but it is not part of the parent portal by default, so we will build our own.
- Management Pages for other tasks somewhat unique to RVA including Permissions, Travel Plans, ID Cards, Activities, Purchasing, etc.
- Our plan for the foreseable future is just to make something that improves PowerSchool, but in the future, we might consider extending this project in the following ways:
- Integration with our Moodle LMS
- Building an improved gradebook with strong LMS integration
- Building or integrating with other LMS and Curriculum Tools
- Building our own scheduling tool
- Integrating with other SIS systems or making this a completely independent SIS
- We decided to make our efforts open source to give value to a larger audience as well as to seek help and involvement from others.
- There are at least two target groups who might like to participate with us:
- Schools in a similar to situation to ours: Schools which use PowerSchool and enjoy parts of it but find other parts frustrating.
Or schools which would like to extend the functionality of PowerSchool beyond what is possible within PowerSchool itself.
- Schools or individuals who want to build a solid, complete and independent Student Information Management System.
There are some open source student information systems out there, but in our opinion none of them is very complete.
Certainly none of them would meet our needs.
Long-term, we may choose to build this system to the point that it can be independent of any other SIS.
If the support is there, we may extend the scope beyond just SIS capabilities.
- We have decided to do this work in the following environment:
- ASP.NET 4.5 and C# using Kendo UI (with an MVVM model) as the client side and ASP.NET Web API as the server side.
- MS SQL Server Express 2012
- We anticipate some concerns about our choice:
- If this connects to PowerSchool, why not use Oracle and Java Server Pages just like PowerSchool does?
- If this is an open source project, why build with Microsoft tools?
Why not use PHP and MySQL or some other completely non-commercial solution?
- Here is the rationale that went into the approach we have chosen:
- Oracle is expensive. It is true that each PowerSchool installation already has Oracle,
but if this project ever becomes independent of PowerSchool, then schools would need Oracle separately and that might be costly.
While there might be a more affordable way to set up Oracle that we don't know about,
we are more comfortable with MS SQL Server. We also find that the free SQL Tools from Microsoft seem more powerful than the free tools from Oracle.
- Java Server Pages may be open technology, but it feels very connected to Oracle to us
and we perceived that the best development tools for it are not open or free.
- ASP.NET is very nice, powerful technology that makes many aspects of development easier and Microsoft is making much of it open source now.
We know that the same functionality we like in ASP.NET is likely also available in JSP and PHP environments,
but the ASP.NET development environment is easy to set up and most of what we need is available "out of the box" with Visual Studio.
Also, everything we are building with is free from Microsoft: Visual Studio Express 2013 for Web,
SQL Server Express 2012, and Internet Information Server version 8. The only cost is a Microsoft Windows license.
(Pretty much any version of Windows can run these technologies. Windows Server is not required.)
Microsoft's implementation of NUGET also makes it easy to add additional technologies right inside Visual Studio.
We believe we have selected a solution that anyone could afford and which provides a very comfortable, relatively easy-to-learn, development environment.
It make certain aspects of development even easier than ASP.NET.
They provide most of their tools in an open source version as well as a commercial version. We would love to use ALL of their tools,
but for now we are sticking with just those that are open source.
- Kendo's MVVM approach has been selected over ASP.NET WebForms because we believe we will collectively build cleaner and
more reusable and more maintainable code with this approach.
- However, choosing ASP.NET over other technologies does mean that ASP.NET webform development IS still possible.
School personnel who would like to extend the functionality of this project,
but who are not comfortable with web programming can still use ASP.NET WebForms to create additional functionality
very quickly. We will probably keep those efforts separate from the core MVVM coding, but we feel that WebForms
can still have a place in the modern development process.
- Rift Valley Academy is a 500 student, 108 year old, American-curriculum, international, boarding school
in Kenya created to serve the educational needs of children of Christian missionaries in Africa,
but which also serves the children of other expats and Africans.
- RVA has a very diverse student body from about 30 different African "work" countries and about 30 different "home" countries.
Our students are generally quite successful academically and each year we have students accepted to the best
collges and universities in their home countries.
- As a boarding school and a school for expat children who often come and go to and from Africa and to and from their home country,
our needs for tracking enrollment and other vital information are greater than what is provided by PowerSchool
(or most Student Information Systems for that matter).
- To make RVA especially affordable for families doing charitable work in Africa,
the RVA staff are "self-supported" volunteers, supported by churches and individuals in their home country.
As expat staff, we go and come to and from our home countries as well, thus RVA has unique needs to track staff "enrollment" as well.
- Even though our needs are unique, we believe that other schools might also benefit from better tracking of staff
and student enrollment and much of the information we feel we need to manage for our unique population.
- Of course many of features of RafikiSIS are universal to all primary and secondary schools and
we look forward to sharing perspectives with other educators and other schools.
About our Team
Jon Stocksdale, project coordinator
- Jon has been involved in education and technology since the early 1980s, teaching a wide range of subjects as well as creating a variety of educational software and school management systems and other business database products.
He built RVA's second student database in the mid-1990s which continues to serve RVA as we transition to Rafiki SIS.
- Jon's passion is for technology which honestly improves education, thus in his mind, the ultimate value of Rafiki SIS
will be the ability to better track how students are doing and encourage better communication between parents, teachers, students, support staff, dorm parents, administrators, and anyone else involved in seeing students succeed.
Taylor Chase, lead developer
- Taylor has been developing software (especially web-based, database-connected software) for the past decade and brings considerable ASP.NET and SQL Server experience to this project.
- Taylor is also a dorm parent for RVA students and understands the needs of a consumer of this student information, as well as the value of communication among staff who desire to see students succeed.
David Tilly, project administrator
- David Tilly has been doing computer and network management for 20 years and has a strong practical sense of making affordable technology work for people.
As RVA's network administrator for most of the last decade, he has built a very solid and effective network with very modest investment. He brings that experience to the design of Rafiki SIS to use Microsoft technologies to create reliability and ease of management without excessive costs.
- David has also served in various other roles at RVA as teacher and dorm parent and thus has a real sense of how technology can help school staff be effective.