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Lancaster County school board members got an update on the implementation of the district’s new computer portal last night that allows parents to keep up with their children’s progress in school.
The update came during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday night where board members also approved changes to the district’s calendar for next school year.
The district’s newest tool for parents, PowerSchool Parent Portal, is a hi-tech answer to prayers for parents who like to keep abreast of their children’s progress in school and an easy way to get on the ball for parents who wish they did more.
Part of a statewide initiative that began last school year, the portal was implemented at all Lancaster district schools Feb. 1.
Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore said the portal takes away the element of surprise for parents who said they didn’t know about their child’s progress.
“In reality, there is no excuse now for parents not to know how their students are doing,” Moore said.
Tech Specialist Jan Collins, who helps administer the program, said the system is accessible through a link on each school’s website, though some schools are still in the process of notifying parents and setting up accounts.
“Once a parent logs in with a password given at the school, they’ll see a snapshot of the classes their student is taking,” Collins said.
Among the information available, Collins said, is the student’s grade history, attendance history, including the nature of each absence, and assignments.
The page also has e-mail links to the student’s teachers if parents have any questions.
“Parents can also sign up for e-mail requests so they can get a detailed report of homework assignments,” Collins said.
The system is also useful for administrators, Collins said, in that it allows them to keep better tabs on both student achievement and what kind of testing and assignments teachers are giving.
Collins said the information gleaned from the system is also used — anonymously — by the state to gather information such as attendance, grades, scholarships and class rankings used for funding and other purposes.
In response to a question by board member Janice Dabney on parental usage, Collins said Indian Land schools were early adopters, with ILHS and ILMS going online with the portal in the fall, followed by ILES just after Christmas.
In part because of that early adoption, Collins said, ILHS has had about 26,570 log ins by parents, an average of 144.4 a day, with 85.8 percent of students with parents who have accounts.
To date, there have been about 62,198 log ins by parents countywide, an average of 336 a day, she said.
“So it’s getting used,” Collins said. “But we feel like we’re really just touching the surface on its use.”
ILMS Principal David McDonald told board members the system has been a great asset for parents. He said his school notified parents with notes sent home with students and students’ report cards.
“The only complaints we’ve had are from students who didn’t want their parents to see their grades,” McDonald said drawing laughter from board members.
Collins directed parents who still haven’t received information on the portal to call their schools.
“(The portal) is accessible at every school,” Collins said. “But if parents don’t have their log on information, just contact the school and they’ll get you set up.”
Dabney said she liked the fact that the portal allowed administrators to keep track of what is going on in their schools, but most of all, she like the immediacy of response the portal allowed parents in responding to their children’s education.
“It gives parents the opportunity to be proactive,” Dabney said. “They don’t have to wait until report cards come out to see what their students are doing.
“They can check their grades on a daily basis ... and do what they need to do if they need to get their (students) back on track,” she said.
Also during the meeting, board members unanimously approved a new calendar for the 2011-2012 school year.
Unlike this year’s calendar, the new calendar will allow students to take their mid-term exams before the start of Winter break on Dec. 22, and wait until the last two days of classes for final exams on May 17 and 18.
The school year will run from Aug. 15 to May 18, meaning students will get out of school a week earlier during the summer with a calendar similar to this year’s.
School spokesman David Knight said the new schedule was approved by an overwhelming majority of school employees who were asked their opinion of it before board consideration.
He said the new schedule offers two large advantages.
“The advantages are that when students leave for Winter break, they’ve already had their exams and there’s not the possibility that they lose the knowledge they have,” Knight said. “It saves on review time needed for exams after the break.
“And at the end of the year we have more time for instruction before we have mandated state tests,” he said. “Usually when we take these tests we have two or three weeks of school left, and that’s time we could have been using to prepare students for the tests.”