A Texas district braced themselves for an avalanche of issues after switching career and college planning tools. Thanks to strategic preparation and a strong vendor relationship, the process was virtually seamless.

A Texas district braced themselves for an avalanche of issues after switching career and college planning tools. Thanks to strategic preparation and a strong vendor relationship, the process was virtually seamless.

The Challenge

Before Dana Jackson took on her current role as executive director of counseling services and college access, she was lead counselor at Grand Prairie ISD’s high schools and noted the need for more online academic tracking and career planning tools.

It was 2013 and Texas legislators had just passed House Bill 5, which restructured the state’s graduation requirements, requiring students to earn endorsements in specific areas of study by completing four additional credits. The endorsements include:

  • STEM
  • Business & industry
  • Public service
  • Arts & humanities
  • Multidisciplinary studies

“Before they enter high school, students must choose their ‘major’—and their electives throughout high school will be geared to that particular endorsement,” said Jackson.

The goal of the endorsements is to help students focus on areas of education and eventual careers that interest them, so they’ll be better prepared for college. However, the endorsement requirement created a lot of paperwork for Grand Prairie ISD. They needed to find a solution that could store and track all of the student endorsement information.

Jackson did some research and immediately fell in love with Career Cruising.

“I loved the course planner feature. It matched up perfectly with what we needed.”

They quickly discovered the multi-grade benefits of the tool.

“What attracted me to Career Cruising was its K-12 component. Most other tools only focused on Grade 9-12 or 6-12. We use the K-5 program with our students who want to explore careers.”

The Matchmaker tool, which helps students find careers that fit their strengths and interests, was helpful for middle schoolers who were considering their high school endorsement.

“By using Matchmaker to research careers and do career clusters, students were better able to go into high school with the right endorsement choices for them,” said Jackson.

Although K-12 students were happily using Career Cruising for college and career planning, students in Grades 9-12 (but mostly seniors) were using another program for college planning. It was time to switch to one comprehensive EdTech solution.

“Kids were confused because they and their college advisors and counsellors were looking for information in two different systems. Plus, it was hard to promote and get teacher buy-in with two programs,” said Jackson.

District
Grand Prairie Independent School District
Location
Texas
Problem
Grand Prairie ISD needed to make the switch from Career Cruising to Xello for a more streamlined future readiness program
Solution
With the right support and the right attitude, the transition was as smooth as could be

The Solution

Jackson knew it was in the district’s best interest to have one system and, after conducting some research, she was able to confidently pitch the program to district decision makers. The presentation was also an opportunity to introduce them to the new Xello, since they were only familiar with Career Cruising.

Her pitch was successful and Grand Prairie ISD moved forward exclusively with Xello.

“Now we’re all on the same page and not being siloed, which is amazing.”

Grand Prairie ISD
29,339
Students
4,198
Staff members
43
Campuses

“We loved the look of Xello. The clean lines, customization, Instagram-like dashboard, storyboard where you can upload, more areas for journaling, and an interactive map for colleges were all very impressive. It was everything Career Cruising offered and more. Plus, it looked and navigated better.”

Grand Prairie ISD

Dana Jackson, executive director of Counseling Services and College Access, Grand Prairie ISD

Jackson says the switch from Career Cruising to Xello was uneventful.

“We packaged it as a sleeker Career Cruising, like Career Cruising 2.0. Once they got in the system and saw it was the same thing, but looked and worked better, it didn’t take a lot of training. They actually clapped when I told them we were moving straight to Xello.”

Grand Prairie ISD’s Xello customer service representative arrived on-site to train high school counselors to make sure they understood the soon-to-be-implemented college features. Xello also created a customized feature for Grand Prairie, with external links to Google docs which contain scholarship information that’s not available in the program. This put to rest any concerns the career providers had about Xello.

Meanwhile, Jackson worked with the district’s communications team to create a Xello website, posters and videos introducing Xello as their sole college and career planning tool. Flyers with login information were prepared to be paired with every student’s schedule in September.

“It’s really important that Xello was promoted throughout all campuses to make sure students are getting the benefit of it. Teachers have also been trained on how to use the program in the classroom.”

Advice for Districts Transitioning to Xello

When it comes to transitioning from one college and career planning tool to another, Jackson recommends:

  • Research. “Talk to other districts who have used the tools you’re considering. Look closely at how each system works and where they gather information. Find out if they can customize their program for your district. And ask about customer service. This is critical! You want a customer service representative who is responsive and helpful.”
  • Get buy-in from all stakeholders. “Make sure everyone working with students are on the same page. That means building relationships with different sectors and explaining the benefits to their area. We may all want a good program, but for different reasons.”
  • Engage your district’s communications department. “Communications is helpful for branding your tool with your district and helping push out information to parents in different campuses. They are instrumental in getting the message out there.”
  • Include use of the tool in counselor evaluations. “Our counsellors are required to use Xello as part of their work with students and, to make sure it’s happening, we include it in their evaluations.”
  • Partner with another district that uses the same program. “Link up with other people who use the program. Xello helped us make connections in our area. We don’t need a lot of support now, but it’s helpful to have partners when you’re in your first year of implementation.”

Jackson has high expectations for Xello’s impact.

“I already know that Xello is an amazing program and I see that it helps all kids, not just those who want to go to college. However, now that we’ll all be on the same page, we hope to get two-year and four-year university rates higher.

“With everybody working together on the same system, anything is possible.”

That was Grand Prairie ISD’s success story—now it’s time to write yours. Learn how Xello can help students at your district get college and career ready. Book My Demo

About the District
The Grand Prairie Independent School District is a 58-square mile district. It is the largest employer in Grand Prairie.
About the Educator
Dana Jackson is the Executive Director of Counseling Services at Grand Prairie ISD, in Texas. She supervises Counselors, School Social Workers, and College Access programs. Grand Prairie ISD has successfully implemented Xello and utilizes the program to assist all students with being future-ready.
ABOUT HEATHER

Heather Hudson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and journalist. She specializes in content marketing, corporate storytelling and good old-fashioned journalism. You can read some of her work in The Toronto Star and learn more about her at heatherhudson.ca.