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Publish Date: 10/6/2005

Web-based tracking tool stumps staff at schools

LONGMONT — Bill Brayshaw is the first to admit St. Vrain Valley School District staff and faculty have had a steep learning curve with its new, Web-based student management system, Chancery SMS.

The director of information and technology services for the district has been busy since the beginning of the school year responding to scheduling problems and gradebook glitches at the handful of schools piloting the SMS program.

“When you move to something Web-based, it is more robust, with more functionality,” Brayshaw said, but it also has “a steeper learning curve.”

Teachers, who were used to previous versions of the software, have had problems transitioning to the online version.

Because of the way “Chancery developed this version of SMS, it wasn’t intuitive moving from one program to the other,” Brayshaw said.

Teachers and administrators have had difficulty developing student schedules on the system, for example.

One principal hand-wrote student schedules the night before school started because he was unfamiliar with the new system.

There were also concerns the SMS program’s glitches wouldn’t accurately reflect the district’s October student count, which is what the state uses as a basis for school operating funds. But teachers were able to manually input the names of students who were not recognized by the program, Brayshaw said.

The school district “obviously underestimated what the training needs were supposed to be,” he said.

The district’s elementary schools have been using the SMS program for several years.

St. Vrain began piloting the Web-based SMS system at a handful of secondary schools this school year, including Coal Ridge and Trail Ridge middle schools.

Trail Ridge principal Valerie Millert said her staff has had “some issues with building the master schedule because it is a pilot (program) and we don’t have all the answers.”

She added, however, that “for the most part, it has gone pretty well.”

Any time a new computer program is implemented “there are great things about it and things you need to iron out a bit,” Millert said. “It really is a nice program. You’ve got a lot of student information right at your fingertips.”

The SMS system ties into K12 Planet, a Web-based community program that allows parents to access their children’s grades, attendance records and discipline reports from home or work without having to call the teacher directly.

Another school reported problems with the SMS system’s gradebook function. Grades added into the program would disappear the moment the teacher logged out, Brayshaw said.

“We just found out about that,” he said. “It could be the application itself or how we serve that application over our environment in the district.”

When the district’s IT employees respond to a problem, they attempt to discover if it is an isolated problem, a systemwide problem or a district infrastructure problem, he said.

“We haven’t found anything yet that turns out to be a show stopper,” Brayshaw said.

The district’s limited number of computer technicians has added to the difficulty in implementing the new software, Brayshaw explained.

St. Vrain’s IT department has four computer technicians to service equipment at 40 schools and the district’s central administration offices.

Each district computer technician is responsible for about 2,000 computers, according to Brayshaw.

“If you look at the industry standard of 600 to 700 (computers per tech) it is hard to stay caught up,” Brayshaw said.

Because of the $13.9 million deficit the district discovered in 2002, he said, budgets “were cut pretty tight. ... We’re still trying to recuperate from that.”

Don Haddad, St. Vrain’s executive director for secondary instruction, said he is not concerned about the glitches that have come about during the SMS pilot program: “It works. We’re not planning to get rid of it.”

More than anything, he said, “it is a process of getting people to understand how to use it.”

Brayshaw said that “if things work out the way I think they will, we will resolve the majority of those issues this year and it will be so much easier to roll out to additional schools next year.”

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211 or pavengladych@times-call.com.

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