Why Assess the Needs for Records Management in School Districts?

Student and district records are vital in the overall operation of every school district, yet managing these records is often a daunting, or sometimes overwhelming task for those who are in positions that handle these records.  Not only can it be time consuming, but, the management of records is controlled by specific state and federal regulations. Laws guide actions such as the preservation and destruction of public records as well as privacy and access to records (i.e. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

School records are pervasive and include, but are not limited to, records generated for district administration, school boards, facilities, finance, human resources/payroll, transportation, general and technical reference records, as well as student educational records.

When you consider that each school record goes through its own unique life cycle, which begins with its creation and ends with its disposition, then effective records management must be more complex than simply setting up a filing and storage system for each office.  A systems-based approach that identifies and controls all recorded district information throughout each life cycle (creation, active storage, inactive storage and final disposition), will in the long run be the most efficient and cost effective for the district.

So where do you start when everyone working in the school district is to some degree responsible for managing public records?

One approach is to identify everyone in the district responsible for handling or creating records.  These employees are considered ‘custodians of records,’ those employed by the district with some level of responsibility for the maintenance and security of student or district records in accordance with district policy.

In addition, each school, or district department or program, has a designated ‘senior records custodian’ who is responsible for the maintenance, care, and security of records, regardless of whether or not that person has actual physical control of the records. This person, as an example, the building principal, serves as the senior records custodian because he/she has the authority to meet the responsibilities of record maintenance and is specifically charged with assuring that school personnel are informed of the provisions of federal and state law and district policies and procedures.

A records ‘chain of command’ continues when there is then one person at the district level assigned the role or function of a ‘Records Management Officer.’  This is a professional trained in Records Management who provides guidance, support and structure to ensure that processes are consistent, efficient and in compliance with state and federal laws.

The following survey template was developed as a tool to assist a Records Management Officer in the task of identifying everyone in a school district who handles records, what records they work with, where those records are located, and what do the custodians perceive would help them the most in their responsibilities in handling records.

This survey can easily be delivered online and the data collated.  The results serve as a assessment for identifying training and resource needs, understanding storage issues, locating district records, understanding processes and forms currently in place, and perhaps most importantly, become the foundation for a custodian contact spreadsheet for the officer to refer to continuously throughout the year.  The data is a starting point and gives a rationale for changes and improvements.  A needs assessment in the form of a survey also sends a message that rather than imposing rules and structure upon an already over-burdened custodian, that the officer is seeking input so the task of managing records can become a bit easier for everyone.

Download Template: PDF | DOC

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This post was written by Kathleen McDonald