Schools looking to use Internet for record keeping

Schools looking to use Internet for record keeping

TOLONO – Sue Hansen distinctly remembers looking at computers and not wanting anything to do with them.

The Unity Junior High social studies teacher went to college before the computer age, and said that before this year, whenever she had the opportunity to work on the machines, she passed.

Not any more.

Hansen, along with every other teacher in the Unit 7 school district, is getting comfortable with using computers for a variety of tasks once confined to gradebooks, report cards, memory and handwritten files.

That's because in the last year the district – made up primarily of students from Sidney, Philo, Tolono, Sadorus and Pesotum – has begun using software that lets teachers post grades, homework assignments and lesson plans. They can make seating charts and link a student photo to his or her file to make identification easier, as well as posting a multitude of other student information, updated daily on security-encrypted, password-protected sites.

"Our goal is to have an informed learning community," said Tim Gateley, technology coordinator and assistant principal at Unity High School. "The one thread that would tie (parents, students, teachers and administrators) together ... is the Web."

To strengthen that thread, the district paid $5,600 for an annual software license to cover all four schools and central office, Gateley wrote in an e-mail.

With the program, parents can check their children's status daily.

So if "Annie" did a great job on that science project, her teacher can type a note next to the grade he posts and Annie and her parents can see the accolade.

That also means that if "Jimmy" didn't want his folks to know about his D on that last language arts quiz or that he twice skipped second-period art class, he will be sorely disappointed in this software.

"I think there are some students that now feel like they don't have room to breathe," Hettinger said.

"The students hate it and I love it, because it makes them accountable," Hansen said.

At the same time, getting Web information can be a big help to students. When Taylor Marcel, a Unity seventh grader, forgets a homework assignment, she just goes to the Web to look it up. She has no problem with her parents seeing all of her grades and assignments.

"You'd be surprised at how much the students look at it," said Mary Hettinger, Unity Junior High principal. "Certainly from a parent standpoint, I think it's much more convenient."

Marcel's mother, high school English teacher Deany Cheatum, has four children in Unit 7 schools. As a teacher, she posts lesson plans on her Unity Web site and grades online, too. As a parent, she goes to the Web to see grades and assignments.

"I like being able to go online and see their grades or if they're tardy," Cheatum said. "My personal opinion is that parents should have access to anything their child is doing in that school."

However, she tries not to check her older child's homework assignments, believing that by high school, students need to learn responsibility for their own work as part of their preparation for college and becoming an adult.

"I don't want to tag along behind them," she said. "As these kids get older, they need to be accountable."

The program can be checked any time, anywhere, with each student receiving an ID and password. "It's pretty much as secure as how we do our (online) banking," Gateley said.

In May 2005, teachers began training to use the program, followed in August by principals and secretaries, the latter of whom Gateley said were invaluable in setting the system up.

For nine weeks in the start of the school year, teachers practiced posting information on the program before making it available to students and parents. "We wanted to make sure we could work through the glitches," said Hettinger.

Each school has been moving at its own pace since then. All district schools have posted attendance online, with the high school regularly posting grades and disciplinary action and the junior high posting grades and starting to post homework as well.

By next year, Gateley estimated, the high school will be posting homework, teacher notes and lesson plans, and the elementaries will begin posting information about discipline.

Since August, Hansen's attitude has done a complete reversal. She now happily turns to the Web to post grades, comments and attendance – even to look for resources for lessons. With the software, Hansen no longer worries about grades and homework assignments not reaching parents. "It takes a lot of the pressure off the teacher," Hansen said.

"When they came in and started training us, it really was like Greek to me," Hansen said. "I just did not want any part of it – and now I love it."

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