Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

Online oversight

District’s new software gives parents up-to-date information on children

August 31, 2006

Although some minor problems shut down the new Skyward Family Access program at De Soto USD 232 schools last week, administrators say it promises to be an important District communications director Alvie Cater said the program would be especially useful to parents.

"In Johnson County, parents are on the go, and this allows parents to have a one-stop shop to become more involved in their child's education," he said.

The new system, now available to parents at De Soto High School and Lexington Trails Middle School, gives parents instant access to their student's grades, assignments, lunch purchases, discipline reports and health records. The De Soto elementary schools report the same information except for student grades and assignments, which administrators say they'll implement at a later date. To access the system, parents get a password through their child's school.

Educational technology director Jeff Mildner said the program was similar to the district's old system, Parent Connect, but with improvements.

"Parent Connect was basically a periodic snapshot of grades in specific points of time. That was pretty much it," he said.

The Family Access program allows parents to see a student's grade as the teacher posts it to the grade book. Instead of going online to each individual teacher's Web site at De Soto High School, the parent or student can go to Family Access and find out assignments for the day and due dates.

"Information overload is the key word for our generation," Cater said. "Skyward allows (the district) to provide a family access that even a student with mom and dad can see how (the student) is doing. They don't have to wait for a progress report."

Mildner said the program was purchased at a cost of $198,000; however it will replace five other software programs in addition to Parent Connect, which needed to be updated.

"It has helped us consolidate and do a single program," he said. "This was necessary. One way or another we had to go with a new student management system."

Family Access has a 128-bit encryption system and is only accessible to parents, teachers and school administrators.

Mildner said the program did have to be taken offline earlier this month, but that was because of some data duplication problems. He doesn't foresee any other problems with Family Access.

Cater said teachers could upload information on Family Access using several fewer steps than the old Parent Connect. Information on the old system might have been updated once a week, whereas information on the new system is instantaneous.

"It automatically refreshes and parents can see it the next second," Cater said. "I can see how my child is doing day to day in classes. I can see what they've ordered for lunch."

Mildner said Family Access also would eventually allow parents to pay for their child's lunch program online, but that has not yet been implemented.

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