The Seven Hills School

Private School Streamlines Scheduling and Purchasing with Claris FileMaker and Skeleton Key


The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, Ohio, relies heavily on developing programs tailored to parents and students with evolving expectations. As a private school, its administrators and staff need to consider innovative ways to balance costs, investing in tools that help focus teachers’ attention on creating a welcoming, creative environment. Its socio-economically diverse student body includes a wide array of kids from many backgrounds, which often comes with individualized grading and instruction protocols.

In that environment, staying on top of data is everything, and manual processes only add to the burden on teachers and parents. Skeleton Key’s developers have a long-standing relationship with Seven Hills, and we quickly stepped in to work within their timeframes and culture to develop tools that simplified their processes without heavy recurring costs.

The First Problem: Existing Industry Software

The education industry’s existing software solutions fall under many of the same “one size fits all” challenges that we often find with most industry-standard software packages. It’s often cumbersome and isn’t necessarily built according to the specified standards of a private school. Seven Hills had an off-the-shelf solution, but it could not incorporate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), nor did it fit well with their bespoke grading system. Integration with Apple mobile devices was also a concern.

Additionally, the available industry software came with a big price tag in the form of annual licensing fees. The school’s in-house developers needed and wanted something that required a lower up-front investment and that they would then own outright.

The Second Problem: Manual Data Processes

Besides getting grading and IEP data into the attendance module, Seven Hills recognized several places where manual processes needed to be replaced with a better, more integrated data solution. For example, the school’s lunchroom and ‘spirit shop’ (where students can buy items like hoodies and insulated water bottles emblazoned with the school’s logo) needed point-of-sale solutions that could integrate purchases with student records and bill parents appropriately when tuition statements were sent home. Ideally, that solution would be kiosk-based and interact with students’ scannable school IDs.

Another pain point was the scheduling of parent-teacher conferences. Both teachers and parents were spending far too much time scheduling and rescheduling in-person conferences using a call-in/sign-in system that left a confusing (and often outdated) paper trail. Teachers wanted and needed an online calendaring system that parents could log into and use to schedule meetings based on the teachers’ availability, in real time.

The Solutions

Seven Hills first turned to Chad Adams, now a part of the Skeleton Key team, to help add needed functionality to the existing attendance system, including modules for their customized grading and feedback as well as information on IEPs, creating a single point of data entry for student progress. This proved the usefulness of FileMaker for integrating information and really customizing the software used.

That is why Scott Cagle, Seven Hills’ Director of Technology, recommended FileMaker as an effective solution when he saw the increasing demands on teaching staff and the lack of efficiency for simple things like POS purchases in their Spirit Shop. Together, Seven Hills and Skeleton Key built some user-friendly solutions to address the school’s workflow and data challenges.

A simple lunchroom app allowed lunchroom attendants to utilize the school’s iPads as a fast and efficient cashiering system. Attendants use a simple interface to tick off the items on a student tray, then scan the student ID. That purchase is then linked to the school’s billing system on the back end. An equally user-friendly POS checkout app for the student store, also built on FileMaker, ties into the school’s inventory system and enables students to make purchases by scanning their student IDs.

A different product involved developing a scheduling app for parent-teacher conferences. Teachers and parents now share an interactive calendar portal where, after logging in, parents pick and reserve a conference timeslot without speaking to the teacher.

The Results

“FileMaker gives us the ability to maximize our flexibility in terms of how we use our data, for each office.” —Scott Cagle, Director of Technology, Seven Hills School

Because parents can now easily click and schedule conferences, parents and teachers experience less friction in their relationships and enjoy more value from the investment in the childrens’ future. Teachers spend less time coordinating with frustrated parents and have that much more time for teaching and classroom prep.

“We know FileMaker is working because we see a lot faster turnaround on sharing data,” says Cagle. “Our team now enjoys a lot more ability to centralize and track data in a much more cohesive and secure way.”

In addition to substantial productivity increases, the school cut down on cost. Cagle estimates that having Skeleton Key develop a custom application that the school could own resulted in a 4X savings to the school over licensing pre-made software (at a steep fee).

How Skeleton Key Can Help You

All schools face a similar set of challenges, whether those institutions are public or private. Our iterative development process allows you and your staff to manage those challenges at a pace and scale appropriate for your budget and schedule.

Fill out our contact form to schedule a free, informative discussion about how Claris FileMaker and Claris Connect solutions can streamline and automate your institution’s day-to-day operations.