Data Hub Educator Spotlight: Matthew LaPlaca

Data Tools and PracticesPostsecondary Readiness

Previously, we shared a blog about RISE’s history with data tools and their use with our network of educators, followed by a blog exploring specific components of the RISE Data Hub. Over the coming months, we will introduce you to educators working with the Hub as part of their daily practice supporting students, starting with Matthew LaPlaca, Social Studies teacher and FAFSA Task Force Coordinator at Naugatuck High School. Matthew is a member of RISE’s recently launched Hub Innovation Fellows, a group of educators who are providing feedback to better understand their experiences and help us define the future of the Hub.

Matthew LaPlaca and FAFSA team

Q: How has the RISE Data Hub enhanced your practice?  How do you use the Hub throughout your day/week? 

A:  My role in the Hub is specific to FAFSA, and as the FAFSA coordinator, I use it daily. I’m very familiar with the senior class and the FAFSA features that we have in there. Just tracking student information and targeting certain kids, that’s how I use it.  

Q: Can you describe a change, improvement, or enhancement that the RISE Data Hub has helped to support in your school?  

A: Last year, my first year as coordinator of the FAFSA Task Force, I was the only one with access to the Hub.  We had a tracker spreadsheet, which was very helpful until we had to customize it for our own use.  So for me, as the coordinator, I’m still using the Hub the same way this year. For my coaches, who didn’t have access to it last year, it’s a game-changer. By opening it up to the entire team and giving them the ability to learn how to do the filtering, it’s just been so simple to use.  Under FAFSA – the completion, not started, in progress – we are coding all of those things so we can communicate easily.  Overall, we’re much happier using the Hub than the tracker. 

There’s also been some more flexibility with tags this year, as well. [RISE Senior Postsecondary Success Coach] Rebecca Kruge was able to create a special tag for each coach so I can then tag students to specific coaches and then filter by that so I can see each coach’s caseload, what percentage are completed or in progress, which kids are not responding to coaches. So we’re using the “not started” tag specifically to identify those students who are not responding to coaches reaching out, so we can filter by that. Then as the coordinator, I can send an email out to all of the kids, giving them more opportunities. I find that very, very useful.

Q: Tell us about a feature or tool that you find to be particularly useful in the tool in the RISE Data Hub.  How does that feature help you and your team?

A: The number one feature of the Hub for us is the filtering. The way we do our individual views helps as well, but we use the filters to get our data; we filter by tags, we filter by FAFSA completion, and so we get a plethora of data. We are able to navigate through all kinds of things. We can eliminate kids who are already done so we can focus on the kids who need our attention. We filter by postsecondary plan. We were originally going to target our two-year college students, and Better FAFSA turned out not to be better, so we focused on our four-year kids as a priority and we were able to process through all of those kids and now we have all of our two-year college plan kids also assigned to coaches. It was very valuable to help the team get through our caseloads of students who needed help. 

Q: How does the RISE Data Hub help you and fellow educators in your work helping students stay on-track and graduate prepared for postsecondary success?  

A: What comes to mind is that we noticed, just after spring break, that we had five students whose FAFSA applications were listed as incomplete due to an error on the EdSight website. Three of those five had been verified as complete in our database. So I was able to reach out to those three students who had previously been showing as completed and it turns out that they were incomplete. Using that data and cross-referencing it with the filters, I was able to reach out to them right away.  So we were able to stay on top of it and get those kids back into that completed category.

Q: How has the RISE Data Hub helped you work collaboratively with other educators?

A: It’s how I organize and coordinate the team. They call me the “FAFSA guy” around here, so I’ve got students who will come to me who are not on my caseload and share with me a problem or submission verification. I can go in and change them from “in progress” to “complete” and send a quick note to the coach saying this student on your caseload is now complete, so we can filter them out now and focus on the kids who need your help. So it just helps me stay on top of it and communicate.  The Hub is extremely valuable to us as a FAFSA Task Force.

Visit our website to learn more about the Data Hub and submit an interest form.