Gilmer High School in Ellijay, Ga., is piloting a new internet-based communications system designed to provide teachers and staff with the ability to post a wide variety of school information quickly and simply on the web.

The system, called Masterfile, will give students, parents, and the local community access to information about course curricula and school activities via the internet.

“For some time now, we have been looking for a way to provide information to parents and students quickly, easily, and effectively on a 24 by 7 basis,” said Mike Bochenko, principal of Gilmer High School.

“Traditionally, our staff has spent an enormous amount of time providing this information by phone and [through] printed materials,” Bochenko explained. “Much of this information is needed after hours and on weekends. Our teachers are frequently contacted at home while on their own time.”

Bochenko said the Masterfile site will allow a parent, student, or school activity supporter with internet access to get a wide variety of information using the Masterfile web browser.

“The basic benefit is twofold. First, it allows us to have a continuous information source, so anyone outside the school can access information,” he said. “The other advantage is that it’s a basic information tool inside the building. It eliminates a lot of paper.”

According to Concord USA, the creator of Masterfile, information entered into the system is classified with keywords, notes, and other “metadata,” enabling it to be found easily by those who are looking for it. Documents can be fully text-indexed, so every word becomes a searchable keyword for retrieval of the information.

Masterfile can be set to notify users automatically as information relevant to them is entered into the system. Content publishers can also manually select users who should be notified during the contribution process.

“The real advantage to this program over a school web site is that teachers don’t have to be trained in HTML. They can just use a basic word processing program,” said Bochenko.

With Masterfile, Gilmer also can create a virtual “bulletin board” where teachers can post information.

“Usually when [teachers] get here in the morning, they hit the ground running and don’t have much time. This way, teachers can communicate with one another when it is convenient for them,” Bochenko said.

Concord USA suggests that educators use the system for posting curriculum, homework assignments, links to required reading, completed tests, grades, parent notifications, student records, school policies, holidays, extracurricular activities, and administrative documentation.

Gilmer plans to use the Masterfile site for a variety of postings.

“We’ve placed our course guide, the school calendar, and the honor code on the site so far, but teachers are starting to put their lesson plans online, too. Once we get up and running, they will put resource materials online and create reserve files, similar to the old-fashioned resource carts they had in the library,” said Bochenko.

Bochenko explained that these files would contain the actual documents, as well as links to relevant web sites.

“The good thing about [the system] is that it only allows students to go to recommended web sites if they are using the Masterfile browser. They can’t link out to other sites and view inappropriate material,” he added. “Also, it is a read-only file, which adds a layer of protection.”

Security is certainly a concern, Bochenko admits. “The site only contains what the teacher downloads to it, and parents must have a password that only allows them to access their child’s file,” he said.

Staff development at Gilmer has consisted of two sessions so far. First, school administrators found 25 teachers who were interested in being trained, about one-third of the school’s staff. These teachers received an hour-long overview to acclimate them to the program.

Bochenko and Masterfile representatives then set up a day-long session in which these teachers could stop by during their planning period and receive one-on-one instruction with company representatives.

“After we have a review session on all that material, we plan to have each teacher trained to be a mentor to another teacher,” Bochenko said.

The cost for Masterfile varies based on the number of students, but it is a flat rate for schools. “We do charge additional fees for our services, which include installation, implementation, and training,” said Laurie Schufeldt of Masterfile. Schufeldt estimates that a school with 1,000 students or fewer would be charged a flat rate of $15,000 to $20,000.

According to Bochenko, “We paid a flat fee for the service, but we got a deal because we are piloting the program.”

Gilmer’s Masterfile site went online Jan. 1, Bochenko said. “Right now, we are operating on an intranet basis, but after Jan. 1 users [will be able to] access it from home,” he said late last year.

So far, Bochenko and the staff at Gilmer have been very pleased with the program.

“What’s innovative about this [system] is that, unlike just having a web site, which has one web master, this can be operated by the teachers. If they can type it and save it to a disk, they can copy it to Masterfile,” he said. “This allows for flexibility. [The site] changes constantly.”

Concord USA Inc.