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|Paynesville Press - May 11, 2005|
Schools offer parent-access Internet
Want to know if your teenager made it safely to school?|
Need to check on your son's or daughter's grades?
Parents can now check their children's attendance and grades online thanks to a new feature on the school district's website - www.paynesvilleschools.com.
This year, the school district had to switch administrative computer software, from MacSchools to JMC. The unexpected switch became a necessity last summer when MacSchools, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, informed their Minnesota clients that their software would no longer support Minnesota schools.
Instead, the school district purchased software from JMC, a small, Minnesota-based company. And they are pleased with the switch, which has saved the district money while improving the software.
Parent access to the Internet is one new feature of the new JMC software.
With a password, parents can now access the attendance record and grades of their students in the Paynesville Area Public Schools online.
To access grades or attendance online, parents or guardians need to call their respective school office (elementary, middle, or high school) and get a password or go online to the school district's website - www.paynesvilleschools.com - and complete the PDF form and return it to get a password. This safeguard protects confidential student information from the general public by limiting access to password-knowing parents or guardians.
Online, parents can now look at their students' attendance or grades. Attendance is posted electronically, so parents can tell immediately if their student is at school. Reasons for absences are added later, when notes are brought to school.
"This is really neat because it's up to date. If a kid snowmobiles to school, their parent can check at 8:17 (to see if their child arrived safely)," said principal John Janotta.
Because this online attendance allows parents to track their children throughout the day and see the reasons for any absences, school administrators have heard this comment from many adults: "Boy, I'm glad they didn't have this when I was a kid."
Through parent-access Internet, the new JMC program allows parents to see their child's points from tests, quizzes, homework assignments, and extra credit in their teacher's gradebooks.
Teachers switched to the electronic gradebook over the course of the year (one class electronically the first quarter, all classes the second quarter). While teachers used to submit all their grades electronically, this was typically done only at the end of each quarter. Now, teachers are entering grades electronically throughout the quarter.
This allows parents to look and see exactly how their students are doing, said Janotta.
The actual server that parents can access online is a duplicate server. Teachers actually enter and record student grades and attendance on a separate server that is protected from the public. With one click though, teachers can post grades entered in their computerized gradebooks to the parent-access Internet. There is also redundancy in the system as a back-up for the data, though some teachers are keeping written gradebooks still as a extra back-up, according to school administrators.
As an ECSE teacher and the department head for special education in the district, Sue Currens has made pages for special services on the school website and e-mails her monthly newsletter to parents of her students. And, as a parent, she finds the parent-access website very useful to check on her two children.
Before the end of the quarter, for instance, she could look over the grades and find any missed assignments and have her kids finish them before the end of the quarter and the finalizing of grades.
Also, before the end of the quarter, she and her kids could look at what tests and assignments were planned and focus on studying for these tests and getting these assignments finished.
If parents register with the school district for this parent-access Internet, their e-mails will also connect with their children's name in teacher's gradebooks. With a click of the mouse, it is then possible for teachers to e-mail a note home when entering grades.
(Or parents can go to the school website and e-mail the respective staff person from the list of links.)
As of March, administrators estimated that 60-70 percent of parents at PAES had registered for online access, 60-70 parents at PAMS had registered, and 40 percent of parents at PAHS.
Though the gradebook is currently available only in grades 4-12, third grade teacher Rita Brossard finds the district's website to be another tool to connect with parents. She has developed a webpage for her classroom at schoolnotes.com, linked to the school website. Her page includes the weekly list of spelling words, so students can study them before the spelling test even if they forget to bring the list home. The website also allows parents to print the spelling words on flashcards.
Brossard, who updates the page weekly, writes notes about what they are working on in the classroom on her site and includes the daily schedule for her class online.
Having all the information online, said Brossard, is easier for parents to access "rather than having to catch me at school." Sometimes, connecting with parents by phone is difficult, noted Brossard, especially since teachers can only make local calls from their rooms and more and more parents use cell phones with long-distance numbers.
The school website and interactive features for parents are "just another tool that kids this day and age are going to use," said Brossard.
Next year, the district hopes to have another module in place that will allow parents to check the lunch accounts of their students online. If parents register for this feature, they could be sent an e-mail automatically when their child's lunch account is low in funds.
Currens expects to use this feature, too. She uses their family's lunch account to eat lunch at school some days, and, even so, finds that the money can disappear in a snap. Not only will this allow her to monitor the funding level, but she can also check to see what her kids are eating: if they are eating breakfast and healthy meals, or not.
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