For many state and local governments around the world, the Internet has proven to be a key means of decreasing paperflow, as well as disseminating information -- the Kent School District is no exception.
Kent School District is the fourth largest school district in Washington state, with 3,000 employees serving 25,000 students. It is also one of the most "wired" school districts in the United States, with a student to computer ratio of 10:1 -- and a goal to reach 3:1.
Four years ago, the district's administration realized they needed a better way to communicate with the parents of their students. They decided that Web technology was a prime way to reach not only parents, but students and teachers, as well. Today, the site is a good example of a versatile tool that provides valuable data to both users outside on the Internet and inside the firewall on the district's intranet.
Reaching the Parents
The district first used the Web site as a calendar to keep parents apprised of district events. "Historically, schools have given out regular wall calendars," explained Kent Keel, the district's executive director of information technology. "But you can't encompass all the information into one of those little white squares." So, the district developed an online calendar with information ranging from sporting and after-school events to daily lunch menus.
Parental interest in the information was so high that the school district developed an application -- a precursor to the push technology called Inform Agent -- that supplies parents with information they want to know. For example, if a parent is interested in knowing about the softball team at one high school and the lunch menus at an elementary school, all the parent needs to do is fill out an online form, checking off the information of interest. The system automatically sends the parent an e-mail whenever any new information becomes available. So, for instance, if a parent is planning to attend a child's softball game, but it is raining, they are automatically informed via e-mail that the game has been canceled -- saving the parent a trip. An e-mail is also sent to the local umpire's association, informing them of the cancellation. Inform Agent has been so successful, the district now markets it to businesses and other school districts.
Inside Information for Teachers
A specialized section called Teachers' Toolbox is the cornerstone to the instructional side of the Web site, according to Keel. The whole district is linked in a WAN (Wide Area Network), with each elementary school having one T-1 line, and all junior high and high schools having two. Almost every classroom is networked in a LAN (Local Area Network), with 10 network drops in each classroom. "It's very saturated," Keel said. "We have six schools that still are incomplete -- we have the money, but not the time."
When accessing the site from within the intranet, teachers can access lesson plans, student records, portfolios and much more. There are also links to libraries and all of the district's policy information.
Information on each student is also available on the site via the intranet. The district is running all their back-end databases on Oracle software, allowing them to take a live database and move transactions off the Web and back into the database, Keel explained. "In the past, if a teacher was lucky enough to have an intercom in their room, they could call up to the front office and ask a busy secretary to look up something on a certain student. With the Web, they click on the appropriate area, enter their password and the system knows which students each teacher can have access to. The teacher can just choose the correct student and then all the information from the personal data card is available to them online, right in their classroom."
Student information isn't the only data available on the site. Teachers and other staff members can access parts of their personnel files to determine how may training and sick days they have available. This saves the time and cost of asking someone in human resources or payroll.
Kent School District's Web page is also a key resource for administrative staff. By accessing the site, each of the district's school cafeterias can order their menus from the central kitchen, as well as any additional supplies they may need.
Another administrative feature that has been very cost-effective is the Surplus Bulletin Board. Whenever a school in the district gets new equipment, such as desks, they list their old desks, with statements of condition, on the bulletin board. Then another school, who may need those desks, can save the purchase price of a new set by taking those from the other school. This helps both schools and keeps the warehouse from filling up with items that are needed, but not known about.
Helping the Students
Looking into the future, Keel's first goal is to reach the students better and to publish their achievements. Inspiring kids to learn and succeed is accomplished with the help of an area on the site called the Electronic Playground. This is a list of links to other sites on the Web that are fun, educational and "kid safe." Keel plans to publish the students' achievements, such as test scores, and then compare them with test scores from other communities with a similar demographic to Kent's.
The second goal for the site is to create an area where teachers can collaborate. "Teachers tend to be isolated, and rarely talk to other teachers about what's going on in their classrooms," Keel explained. "We want to be able to have them share their information and ideas and be able to talk -- we want it to become a real teaching tool." Plans include allowing teachers to post their grades and lesson plans on the Web from any computer. This will allow them to discuss problems and solutions.
By providing a site that is rich with uses from both inside and outside the district's firewall, the Kent School District Web site is an example of productive and successful use of the Internet to reach disparate audiences with different needs.
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