April 27, 2013 in Washington Voices

System at CVSD allows parents to check on children’s progress

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

School secretary Bev Burkhalter talks about the advantages of a new district-wide computer system for registering and tracking students Wednesday. Burkhalter works at the Central Valley Kindergarten Center, where many children first register for school.
(Full-size photo)

Before this school year, if parent Mindy Rowe wanted to know what was going on in her children’s classes in the Central Valley School District, she would have to call or email her children’s teachers.

“I’m a super-involved, nosy parent,” Rowe said.

She said she would meet the teachers on back-to-school night before the beginning of the school year and volunteered in the classroom. While she said all of the teachers were very helpful and got back to her in a timely manner, she realized if every parent asked for a list of missing assignments, it would be a lot of work for teachers.

This year, Rowe can check her children’s progress online.

Two years ago, district administrators and teachers were hand scheduling high school students before every new semester.

When Ben Small took over as superintendent in 2008, the district had a homegrown system to manage student data and conduct its business. While he said the system did a good job, it needed to be updated to meet the needs of the district.

“We needed to do something different,” he said.

In 2011, Small and his staff presented the software system SunGard Suite to the school board. The price tag was high – $726,711 for the software contract and staff training. Small told the board the system could be paid for after a one-time utilities savings of $639,451 and from federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

SunGard revamped every aspect of conducting business in the school district, aside from teaching. All four components of the system are integrated, so if information is changed on one, it’s changed on the rest of the system.

Business PLUS is the financial and human resources management system that provides financial management tools for all district accounts. It includes human-resource management tools, such as recruiting, personnel, employee access, payroll and a way for employees to track professional development.

Performance PLUS contains student assessment, data analysis and curriculum management.

IEP PLUS is the special education management system, which streamlines data and records in accordance with federal and state requirements. It includes online individualized education plan development and forms.

The program that most students, parents and school secretaries use is eSchool PLUS.

Susan Christenson, director of instructional technology and career and technical education, said the program includes student information, parent contact information, demographics, attendance records, the Teacher Access Center and the Home Access Center, the program Rowe uses to check her children’s progress.

Parents can log into the system and see a list of their children attending school in the district. Rowe has two children, Chloe, a freshman at University High School, and Camden, a sixth-grader at North Pines Middle School.

When her children are absent, she can check to see what assignments they missed. She can check their progress in each class and see what they need to boost their grades. If there is a discipline problem, that will be listed, too. Once last year as an eighth-grader, her daughter forgot to take her phone out of her pocket before class, which is a violation of North Pines rules. That incident is still listed on her daughter’s page.

“That doesn’t go away,” Rowe said.

Rowe said she is still learning about the system. She generally checks it every two weeks, but Chloe checks it more often to be proactive with her grades.

“I do like it, and it’s very helpful,” Rowe said.

At the Central Valley Kindergarten Center, head secretary Bev Burkhalter recently entered her 100th kindergarten registration form for the 2013-14 school year.

“We get a whole new set of kids every year,” she said. Before, information about the students varied from school to school. For instance, sometimes there were notes such as, “Grandma will pick up on Fridays,” listed where a parent email address should have been.

The new system helps standardize how addresses and other contact information are entered. Burkhalter said this information is important because it will follow the student throughout their school career.

Of course, with every new computer system, there are glitches and bugs. There was also some trepidation about doing things differently, such as keeping grades in the computer, rather than a grade book.

“A grade book is very personal to a teacher,” Small said.

Christenson said the system will be upgraded over the summer, based on feedback from teachers and staff.

District spokeswoman Melanie Rose said that while they have had SunGard up and running for most of the school year, it is still not fully operational, and expects most employees will start to feel proficient with it after another year.

“We wouldn’t ask to go through this kind of change if it wasn’t necessary to move forward,” Small said.

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