Aspen schools ditch the chalk
November 15, 2006
Aspen educators are cruising along the information superhighway these days, using online services to cut down on paper waste, help students and parents, and making it easier for the school board.School board members this year began receiving their agenda packets electronically to cut down on the district’s outlay for paper and on its paper waste, according to statements by school board members. Board members use computers to refer to the agenda during the meetings, and to make notes regarding topics under discussion.But by far the greater use of software and online technology is down where the rubber (sneakers) hits the road, or in this case, the tiled floors at Aspen High and Aspen Middle schools.Say you’ve got a couple of kids in those schools, and you’re wondering how they’re doing academically but you’re not quite up to attending a formal parent-teacher conference.If you have a personal computer, a modem and Web access, you can check on Johnny’s or Suzie’s status from the comfort of your own home. Then you’re ready to go in to talk with a teacher, armed with actual data on your child’s education, thanks to the PowerSchool Student Information System.The system tracks enrollment numbers, daily attendance figures, classroom assignments, test grades and other information. It also keeps track of certain “demographics” data, according to technology specialist Dave Tolen, such as student gender, ethnicity and ages.Teachers use it to help manage their classroom information flow, and district administrators use it compile required annual student-census reports for the Colorado Department of Education. It also offers parents a chance to check on their children electronically, and it permits students to keep track of classroom assignments, test results and other data.Students and parents can log onto the system through the district website – http://www.aspenk12.net – and, using a special password, get access to certain types and levels of data, such as homework, grades and attendance.”Kids kind of have a hard time escaping their parents’ eagle eye,” remarked ASD Assistant Superintendent Bev Tarpley. In addition, the system posts a calendar of teacher schedules, so if she needs to know where a certain teacher is at any given time she just logs on.Technology Coordinator Chris Durham said that while a few bugs – some of which are as much the result of operator error as system failures – remain to be worked out, “I still feel it’s a solid product.”He said he has talked with computer technicians from other school districts who have been using PowerSchool longer than the ASC has, and that in those district they experienced a similar level of trouble in the first couple of years of use.Tarpley said the district has another electronic system, known as Blackboard, that is mainly for teachers to post assignments, projects and other information. Students can check on the site to learn about assignments, do an assignment online, or download notes the teacher posted about one subject or another.”It’s good for kids, for example, who don’t take notes well,” she said. And, she continued, the district is now looking for yet another online informational system meant to provide information to parents who log onto the district’s e-mail system. The PowerSchool system was installed and teachers trained in its use in the summer of 2004. It cost $44,088, and replaced an older student information system, known as SASI, that had been in use for several years but which was proving to be problematic, according to the district’s technology and finance departments.The district pays a fee of $20 per student every year, amounting to $29,700 last year, which covers ongoing licensing, support and other costs for the PowerSchool system.The Blackboard software, according to the school’s finance office, came along before PowerSchool and costs an annual licensing fee of about $9,800.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.