emphaSIS on the future


After 10+ years writing student information systems for a wide variety of schools, I've decided it's time to take what I've learned and rewrite from the ground up.

Beginning in 2014, emphaSIS will be the core of all new Student Information Systems I deliver.

emphaSIS on Creative Tinkering

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As a consultant, I like working with creative people who aren't afraid of technology, who click first and ask questions later. These innovators are not afraid to open up my work, create a report on their own, or add fields where they have no earthly right to be. They begin phone calls with, "Peter, I've done something terrible..." and end calls with, "I knew you'd have the answer". They see it as their job to push my system, and my job to keep it working. If they're Kirk, I'm Scotty.

emphaSIS will embrace constructive tinkering with simple, FileMaker-native interfaces and the absence of flashy "developer tricks"


emphaSIS on Assessment

Conventional wisdom is that you need a team of engineers to build a good SIS. That team of engineers needs a team of salespeople to tout their work, and are protected from customers by a team of support personnel. "Help" begins with the FAQ, and ends with support "tickets". The idea that one person can build and support a proper SIS is crazy, right?

Not really. Building a SIS takes time, but arriving at a quality design is easy, if you begin with the simple question:

"How do we assess student progress?"

My first SIS was born from a need to create unique, narrative reports in a school that believes grades are anathema to student development. Not all my clients embrace that principle, and I've coded many conventional grading and GPA systems. But every SIS I've delivered since that first one has started by asking, "how do you want to assess student progress?"

Once you get the ball rolling on that question, everything else follows - student records, courses, enrollments, teachers, family data, attendance, schedules, terms, self evaluations, transcripts, goals, and so on. And once you have all those good things in place, in a well-organized, totally flexible database, there's no limit to what you can do.


emphaSIS on Simplicity

FileMaker has always been the best environment for building powerful, flexible database applications, but that power and flexibility used to come at the expense of visual niceties like mouseovers and gradients. In order to deliver user-friendly, professional-looking systems, we developers often had to resort to elaborate tricks, making our solutions less tinker-friendly and harder to maintain. 

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Recent versions of FileMaker make a lot of these tricks a thing of the past. Out of the box, FileMaker delivers elegant, modern style themes that are easy to work with. In embracing these advances, emphaSIS will adhere to certain "commandments", which aim to keep the system light, flexible, and easy to maintain. Here are a few:

  • No Plugins
  • Layout Mode should look like Browse Mode
  • The Relationship Graph is a garden, not a jungle
  • Interfaces will use native themes

emphaSIS on Integration

emphaSIS will not do everything. It will not be your learning management system. It will not manage your school's social networking presence. It will not repair your smartboards, plan your fund drive, monitor study hall, or run your library. There are great tools out there - many of them free - and your school should choose and use the ones that work best for them. 

But a quality SIS will always be the heart and soul of school data, the authority on all things family, faculty, enrollment and assessment. As such, it must   be able to play well with any other tool, by dispatching structured information in any format required and reading whatever data those tools want to throw back at it.

But wherever the market fails to provide exactly the tool you want - teacher evaluations, attendance, professional development, email blasts, you name it - a little FileMaker tinkering in emphaSIS may be all you need.

emphaSIS core features

Although the core focus of emphaSIS is to do a few things extremely well, and play nicely with others, the core feature set is comprehensive. Here are a few of the basics:

  • Household/Demographic data, including support for multiple households, numbers, emails, etc.
  • Faculty & Student data
  • Courses, Sections, enrollment
  • Graphical schedule representation, with support for virtually any schedule type
  • Any type of student reports - grades, checklists, narratives, self assessments, etc.
  • Robust faculty interface for entering assessments, including phrase banks and rapid checklist entry
  • Web-based interface for faculty
  • Daily and Intraday attendance, with support for mobile attendance taking via web interface or FileMaker Go. Attendance integrates with reporting
  • Parent and student Email lists by section, grade or homeroom
  • Huge collection of printed reports, including family and faculty directories, class lists, grade summaries, ID Cards, birthday lists, demographic statistics, mailing labels, medical reports, attendance reports, pickup lists, family re-enrollment forms and more.

emphaSIS modules and expansions

"Do a few things well and play nicely with others" is a fine philosophy, but sometimes nothing goes better with a quality FileMaker system than more quality FileMaker systems. Once emphaSIS core is up and running, my other school solutions will be getting the emphaSIS treatment, including:

  • Admissions
  • Online Family Re-enrollment
  • Development, Volunteers & Fundraising
  • Professional Development
  • Faculty Evaluations
  • Curriculum Mapping



Questions about emphaSIS? Please drop a line