Focus

Paperless Initiatives Boost Our District’s Connectiveness

by MARY ANN L. STABILE

The Upper St. Clair School District, a suburban district south of Pittsburgh, has been transitioning to electronic communication with students, parents, community, school board, staff and prospective residents for six years. We have become more efficient as we have cut costs.

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Our newest initiative, Back-to-School Online, uses our district’s website to connect with families. Powered by infosnap, an electronic student registration system, this feature eliminates the paperwork burden for parents while providing an efficient data-collection system for the district. A customized online form includes data from the student information database.

Before the school year begins, all parents receive a secure password to verify or update their child’s information. Forms requiring a signature, such as video/photo permissions and verification that student handbooks and policies have been reviewed, are handled via electronic sign-offs. The updated information is uploaded into the district’s student information database.

Districtwide Goal
Maintaining an informative website for the school district is a way of marketing a district’s brand. We think of our website as a “virtual visit” to our school district.

Beginning in 2008-09, Patrick O’Toole, Upper St. Clair’s superintendent, established the goal of providing more information online rather than on paper.

The use of the e-Alert feature of our website provider, Schoolwires, assists us with our communications. An e-Alert is an e-mail sent to individuals who sign up, allowing them to receive a message whenever new information is posted to the district website or one of the school’s web pages. The e-Alert links directly to the new information.

We’ve also replaced the traditional “good news” packets of informational flyers, brochures, and PTA and building newsletters that were sent home weekly in the backpacks of students at the elementary and middle schools. Those packets are now placed on the individual schools’ websites, labeled as “eGood News.” Once the information is posted, an e-Alert is sent.

We also publish on the website a monthly newsletter in full color titled e-BLAST, which includes student awards and recognitions, unique school programs and the district’s annual report. e-BLASTs replace a quarterly print newsletter that had been mailed to each resident, generating significant savings in production and postage costs. An e-Alert informs individuals that the latest newsletter is ready for viewing.

The calendar feature on our website promotes activities across the district and at each of the six schools. The calendar function contains a filter that allows users to view events from all the buildings at once or to display events for just a specific school. The filter capability is used during planning processes to avoid scheduling conflicts.

Academic Communications
The district website communicates academic information to the families of our 4,100 students. Staff members develop web pages that provide a wealth of information for students and parents, such as resources on mastering math facts, themes for each subject area, a class newsletter, student blogs and slide shows from field trips and parties. The district provides resources and professional training to help staff develop informative web pages.

Parents and students can access the password-protected Edline, an online portal for student grades and information about academic progress. Also accessible are assignments, class grades, quarterly progress reports and attendance.

We also take advantage of Google Apps for Education, which is free to all education institutions and includes Gmail (e-mail), Google Docs (document management system) and Google Calendar. All of these are available to staff and school board members. Google Calendar allows the district to create various schedules, which can be viewed simultaneously or separately. Google Docs is used by our administrators and teachers as a collaboration tool for viewing and editing documents.

Board’s Example
The school board has fully supported the school district’s paperless initiatives. The board wants to maximize its investment in technology, model green practices, improve efficiencies and maximize funding for students. As such, board members are leading by example. They now use Google Docs as the basis for all board operations, including paperless packets and meetings.

The transition to electronic communications has brought significant cost savings, while allowing real-time information sharing and improving the communication among all of Upper Clair’s stakeholders.

Mary Ann Stabile is executive assistant to the superintendent in the Upper St. Clair School District in Upper St. Clair, Pa. E-mail: mstabile@uscsd.k12.pa.us