Parent Involvement: utomatic eMail alerts keep parents well informed

Fairbanks, Alaska, parent Mike Beck now can check his daughter’s test scores and attendance records on the internet while enjoying his morning coffee. Absences, grades, homework assignments, messages from teachers–Beck has access to it all.

And the best part is, when his daughter’s grades fall below a certain point that he specifies, the system sends an automatic eMail message alerting him to that fact.

“She brought a grade up I didn’t expect her to,” said Beck, as he browsed a web page with the North Pole High School junior’s information in early March.

“I really like this. This is really neat.”

Soon, the same opportunity will be available to all Fairbanks North Star Borough School District parents, when a new computer system called Centerpoint is integrated into local schools.

The district’s board of education approved spending $250,000 to purchase the new communication program last fall, said Ann Shortt, school superintendent. In January, three schools–North Pole High School, Randy Smith Middle School, and Woodriver Elementary School–were selected to test-drive the program. Next year, the district will bring all borough high schools and middle schools online. Elementary schools will be added in the 2007-08 school year, Shortt said.

“I think it will help in a number of ways,” she said.

Centerpoint, designed by Arizona-based Pearson School Systems, allows teachers and school administrators to access or add information such as grades, attendance, homework, and assignments. Parents and students can look up this information almost immediately by logging onto a web page.

The software also has an eMail program that can be set to send out automated notifications of events, grades, and such.

Parents without internet access can still get the same information by telephone, much like people do with bank accounts, Shortt said.

The best part is that, because the program is web-based, it can be accessed from any computer, school officials say. “Say we’ve got a dad maybe over in Iraq,” said A.C. Woolnaugh, North Pole High School principal. “He can check on his child’s progress.”

North Pole parents recently received login information during parent-teacher conferences. Other parents were mailed the same information, Woolnaugh said.

Beck tried his password out for the first time March 2.

“I’m actually really impressed,” he said. “I’ve kind of developed an eMail relationship with some of her teachers. Now I can do a shotgun blast to all of them.”

In Rapid City, Iowa, Centerpoint appears to be a hit with parents there.

Because parents have instant access to every aspect of their children’s school work, parents felt more connected to their students’ schools, said Woolnaugh, who visited the Iowa schools with other school employees recently.

The Rapid City school district saw a dramatic increase in parent participation in school events as a result, he said. Woolnaugh is hopeful the same will happen at North Pole. While the basics–such as attendance and grades–are online now, eventually library checkouts, lunch tabs, transcripts, and other uses will be developed for the program, he said.

“It centralizes everything,” Woolnaugh said.

For now, he can keep tabs on students who have been skipping school, but he can also catch kids being good, too. “Say we have a basketball game,” he said. “I can say, Give me a list of all the kids with no tardies last week,’ and [these students] can get into the game free.”

The program is not just a tool to keep up with students. A sick child can easily find out what work has been missed by logging onto the web site.

“How cool is it to log on and find out I’m supposed to be reading chapters three and four of The Crucible and then write a 300-word essay?” Woolnaugh said.

Jim Gillis, Woodriver principal, likes the program, too. Teachers and staff can keep track of lunch counts, grades, and mid-quarter and quarterly reports.

“It’s a lot more accountable for parents and students,” he said. If students or their parents need to know anything school-related, they can simply “take a peek.” Link: Fairbanks North Star Borough School District

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