The DeKalb County School Board recently became the first school board in Georgia—and one of the first in the nation—to commit to moving all of its functions to an online format. The initiative is part of the Georgia School Boards Association’s New Millennium Leadership Program, which aims to “change the way boards of education manage information to improve student achievement.”

To accomplish this goal, the association has partnered with Apple Computer to provide the hardware, software, and professional development needed to transform boards of education into paperless governing entities.

The program will explore innovative uses of the internet to deliver information, training, and administrative procedures to district leaders and stakeholders, including community members, students, teachers, and parents.

According to the association, board members in the state see this new “online school board” program as a way to capitalize on the internet to improve decision-making, while simultaneously setting a leadership example for students, faculty, and the community at large.

“If we don’t use [the internet], how do we expect teachers to embrace it?” DeKalb County School Board Chairman Brad Bryant told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is an excellent opportunity for us to become better board members.”

Right now school board processes in DeKalb County are heavily paper-dependent, according to Dr. Edward Bouie, executive director of DeKalb’s management information systems.

At each month’s board meetings, all seven board members and the superintendent are handed packets containing the financial report for the month, the human resources report, the student discipline report, and the minutes from the previous month’s board meetings.

“The packet is without a doubt 200 to 300 pieces of paper,” Bouie said.

Ultimately, board members will be using the Apple platform’s “eAgenda” web tool to read reports and recommendations, correspond with each other, check policies, consult the association’s school law guide, and get their entire board meeting packets online. But Bouie says it will be this fall before they become proficient enough with the system to do away with paper entirely.

The eAgenda tool will give school board members a specially designed web site containing all the information they need to make informed decisions and disseminate information to stakeholders.

Having computers equipped with the eAgenda program present at school board meetings will give board members the ability to call up the information they need instantaneously.

All district and state rules and regulations will be maintained on the system and easily can be accessed without having the secretary go out and find a copy. And if a board member is not present at the meeting, he or she can be reached via the internet.

Phase I of the New Millennium Leadership Project will provide a turnkey solution emphasizing the board’s use of eMail and the internet through a series of customized training classes held over several months. During these classes, board members will learn how to access information quickly.

Phase II of the project will integrate the board’s understanding of technology with web-based tools offered by the Georgia School Boards Association and others to enhance the efficiency of the board’s operations. Examples of such tools include online policy manuals, electronic board meeting agendas, and online reference manuals such as the association’s “A Guide to School Law in Georgia.”

“eAgenda will take all of that information, put it in an electronic format, and post it on a web site so [it] will be accessible on the web,” said Bouie. “The other aspect is that eAgenda will have a database of archives, so board members can go back and pull up old information.”

The ability to compare old and new information should improve data-driven decision making by board members, Bouie said. He added that the searchable archives will be available to parents and community members as well.

“There will be a link [to eAgenda] from the board section of the web site,” he said. “This also satisfies the law that says an agenda must be posted 24 hours before a board meeting.”

DeKalb County school board members are now undergoing in-depth training on the operation of their new laptops, basic web skills, and the eAgenda software. Most of the training is being conducted by representatives from Apple Computer.

“We have also issued our school board members [personal digital assistants], and I’ve done the Palm training,” Bouie added.

The board approved $45,000 for the purchase of the iBooks and the training, but this does not include the cost of developing the web site itself.

That will cost in the neighborhood of $80,000, said Bouie, and funds have not yet been appropriated. Where that money will come from will be determined after the training concludes in February.

Bouie said the software should feature an online archive for board member and stakeholder access as early as this spring, but the first paper-free board meeting is not scheduled to take place until September.

Links:

DeKalb County School Board
http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/board

New Millennium Leadership Program
http://www.gsba.com/millennium

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com