California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 36, No. 3
April-May, 1996

As Time Goes By

Technology: Changes affect County Office processing and organization, but user needs must still be met.

Judy Acosta, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools

The Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Office has offered Student Personnel Services to user districts/schools since 1968. I was hired in June, 1971, by VCSS, as a secretary to Jack Totheroh (whom some of you "old timers" will remember) and was also assigned to process the student standardized testing that was done at the time--my first experience with student systems. That was almost 25 years ago, and that same student system is about to "die" in June of 1996. Should we be happy and throw a party, or should we be sad and hold a wake? Probably a little of both. The system needed a lot of attention--actually, a new one was needed. But, it has provided me with lots of challenges over the years, and I have met and worked with lots of interesting people.

In the beginning--everything was batch processing. All of our work--from payroll to student attendance--was collected on paper and/or holerith cards. If the data did not arrive in card format, it was quickly audited and converted to card format. There was little that couldn't be done using those cards. Keypunch machines and operators were an integral part of the data processing department. If you ever found yourself with spare time or a "non-urgent" job, you were very quickly assigned to an empty keypunch machine and taught to verify the work of the more experienced operators. At certain times of the year, such as prior to second semester, there would be tables of locator (schedule) card changes in boxes. The boxes would be lined up in the order that the changes were received from the schools. At that time, on our student file was just under 200,000 students, so you can imagine the stacks of paper. Of course, payroll and accounts payable always took priority, so it seemed that we were always in a catch up mode with student processing. There was a tremendous amount of work to be done and overtime was the rule rather than the exception. In all honesty, I have to say that I had a really good time. We worked hard, and we played hard as well. Lots of laughter and camaraderie. It could be that I was young and foolish and needed the money I earned working overtime. Whatever, there were lots of good times.

The student, payroll, and accounts payable systems at VCSS evolved to on-line processing over time, and the need for keypunch operators and off line equipment operators went away. On line processing removed a tremendous workload from the data processing department, and the resulting loss of personnel was sad but necessary.

I have learned over the years, that student administrative systems are very complex. There is very little about a student system that is "cut and dried". Many people think that all a student administrative system does is take attendance and report a.d.a. Those of us who have worked closely with these systems know better. Attendance is the least of the problems encountered. I will miss the VCSS student system with all its complexities. However, VCSS has formed a business partnership with Macro, and we are supporting their student systems in Ventura County. Although different, student systems will still be a part of my "work life" as well as other assignments.

There have been so many changes in technology these past twenty-five years that when you let your mind meander back, you become truly amazed. What does not change is the basic need of the customer--attendance accounting, scheduling, mark reporting, transcripts, etc. We have downsized our data processing departments and transferred the workloads to the customer, usually based on user request. Sometimes I wonder whether users are happier being in total control of their "own" systems. One thing I know for sure, they have a lot more work to do.

Providing users with what they need has always been our goal at VCSS, and that will not change. It will simply take a different direction. The structure of our organization has changed and continues to change, and I believe that it is for the best. It's time for "out with the old and in with the new" so let's discover new ways to be of service to our users and see what the next 25 years bring.

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