Connecting Your SIS to Schoolzilla Using ODBC


Schoolzilla pulls from your student information system (SIS) nightly in order to provide teachers, school leaders, and district leaders fresh data on enrollment, attendance, behavior, and grades. We pull data from most SISes (except Aeries, FOCUS, Skyward, SchoolTool, and Tyler) using two industry-standard tools:

  1. Virtual Private Network (VPN): VPN gives Schoolzilla a highly secure way of connecting to the server that hosts your SIS. Think of this as the secure "pipe" that connects Schoolzilla to your data.
  2. Open Database Connectivity (ODBC): ODBC lets Schoolzilla pull important data out of your SIS and transport it through the secure VPN "pipe." Think of this as the "valve" that lets Schoolzilla access data from your SIS and prepare it for your dashboards.

When combined, VPN and ODBC let Schoolzilla access the data needed to calculate metrics and keep them up-to-date through an automated, nightly ingestion, with minimal/no ongoing effort required from you and your team. This method also allows us to reflect the richness of data in your SIS, such as customized demographic categories.

This article will walk you through the process of using VPN and ODBC to connect your data to Schoolzilla. You'll need help from an IT administrator at your school system who has access to your SIS servers and databases, and may also need to contact your SIS vendor.

As soon as you complete the steps outlined below, we can start the process of setting up your Schoolzilla dashboards!

Step 1: Confirm your Connection Story

Before you can connect your SIS to Schoolzilla, we need some basic information about how your SIS is set up. Since this information is not sensitive and will not expose student data, a District Partnerships Lead collected it from you or members of your district IT team as part of the Pre-Integration Questionnaire.

For now, you just need to confirm that you and your IT administrator(s) are in agreement on the following information:

  1. Confirmation that you can provide ODBC access to your SIS. This is required, unless you are using one of the following SISs: Aeries (API), Focus (Files to SFTP), Skyward SMS (Files to SFTP), SchoolTool (Files from your RIC/BOCES to SFTP) and Tyler (Files to SFTP).
  2. Your hosting arrangement. Specifically, whether you are:
    • Self-hosted: The server for your SIS is maintained “on-site” by someone in your school system.
    • Vendor-hosted: The server for your SIS is maintained by a vendor outside of your school system. This can be the maker of the SIS, another vendor that has a partnership with you and/or the maker of the SIS, or your educational data agency partner.
  3. What type of Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection you will leverage to connect to Schoolzilla. This only applies if you are self-hosted. If you are vendor-hosted, Schoolzilla will make arrangements with the vendor to securely connect to your SIS. Schoolzilla supports connections to the following types of VPN.
    • Barracuda
    • Cisco
    • F5 VPN (Powerschool)
    • Fortinet
    • Palo Alto
    • Sonic Wall VPN
    • SSH server

If you are unsure about any of this information or think it may have changed, you should reach out to your Project Manager and Setup Coordinator.

Step 2: Provide Virtual Private Network (VPN) Credentials

If your SIS is vendor-hosted and not Powerschool, please skip to Step 3

If your SIS is Powerschool and is vendor-hosted, you will need to provide VPN credentials so that Schoolzilla can access the network where your SIS server lives. VPN is an industry-standard method for securely connecting systems across networks.

In order to provide access, you will need to submit your Powerschool F5 VPN credentials to our secure form on My Data.

If your SIS is self-hosted, you will need to provide VPN credentials so that Schoolzilla can access the network where your SIS server lives. VPN is an industry-standard method for securely connecting systems across networks.

In order to provide access, your IT administrator(s) will need to create credentials for Schoolzilla and save them on My Data, Schoolzilla’s secure data connection platform. The exact requirements for connection information vary between different VPN methods. Visit My Data and find your VPN credentials form for details.

Once you have submitted VPN credentials on My Data, Schoolzilla will use them to build a VPN "pipe" to your SIS.

Next, you'll need to set up the ODBC connection to turn on the "valve" and provide access to your data.

Step 3: Provide SIS ODBC Credentials

You will need to provide read-only ODBC credentials so that Schoolzilla can access the database where your SIS stores data about your students. ODBC is an industry-standard method for securely providing access to data stored in databases.

In order to provide access, you or your IT administrator(s) will need to enter read-only ODBC credentials into My Data.

If your SIS is self-hosted, your IT administrator(s) or SIS administrator(s) can create read-only credentials that will provide read access to your enrollment, attendance, behavior, and grades data.

If your SIS is vendor-hosted, you may need to reach out to your SIS provider for assistance in creating a read-only account or providing credentials to an existing, default account.

For detailed instructions by SIS, please see our Implementation section.

Once you have submitted these read-only credentials on My Data, Schoolzilla will automatically store them as part of your ingestion package that will be used when accessing your data nightly as we populate your Schoolzilla dashboards!

Frequently Asked Questions

Our SIS is self-hosted. What type of VPN credentials are needed to authenticate?

We ask that you create a named account for Schoolzilla. Each VPN type will require you provide different information to enable a successful connection. As an example, Sonic Wall requires sharing the following via My Data with Schoolzilla:

  • VPN host
  • VPN Domain
  • VPN port
  • Username
  • Password

Please review the My Data form for the VPN type you will use to see what specifically is required.

How do you connect to our SIS on a nightly basis? How long does each connection attempt last?

We use a service that will create a VPN container at the time of your nightly job, connect to the VPN and the database to allow for data to be ingested via an MS SQL server SSIS package, and then close the database connection and VPN container when finished. Because we use a run-and-done container model, the connection to your SIS will only be active as long as it takes us to ingest the data. The exact duration will vary based on SIS and district size.

We run our ingestion processes during a nightly window, with most ingestion attempts occurring after 12am PT. If you have nightly processes running on your SIS that we should be aware of, please let our support team know and we can reschedule your nightly job if needed.

What level of access do you need to our SIS database? Are you running any processes? Which data are you accessing?

We request read-only access to your student information system.  We never need write access, nor do we execute any processes on the database. The ingestion steps we conduct simply copy data from your SIS tables using a prescribed SSIS package. We only copy tables and fields that we use for our dashboard display and very intentionally never copy sensitive PII fields like social security number.

How much experience do you have connecting to student information systems via ODBC?

ODBC connections are the most common method we use when supporting customers.  We have been using this method since Schoolzilla's inception over 8 years ago, and in that time over 80% of customers we've supported have used an ODBC connection method to securely and easily share their data.

What security practices are in place?

Please see our article Data Security FAQ for details about our security practices specific to Schoolzilla's infrastructure as an expansion of Renaissance's Information Security policies and Renaissance's data privacy and retention policy.