- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

Parents in Fairfax County, Va., who used to have to rely on quarterly report cards and parent-teacher conferences to track their childrens progress soon will be able to do so by logging on to the Internet.
County school officials said they will implement a computer program that will allow parents to find out, on a Web site, whether their children skipped class, handed in their homework, or passed or failed a test. The site will even show parents the details of their childs daily lessons and assignments, and possibly the schools daily lunch menu.
Administrators say it is a more immediate way to keep parents informed.
"Having this [technology] is extremely crucial," said Rosanne Winter, director of instructional technology for the county public school system. "Parents need to get information about their children as quickly as they can. We cant wait to periodically fill them in on their childs progress. Sometimes it may be too late. With this technology, no one waits."
The program — which cost the county about $500,000 in software — is still in its testing phase, and school officials expect it to be on-line at West Springfield and Herndon high schools by this fall, officials said.
Fairfax County — the regions largest school district with 160,000 students and roughly 230 schools — begins its project two years after a Prince William school started a similar program that has drawn praise from parents. Steve Constantino, principal at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, said his school began operating its site so that parents could be more involved in the childrens education.
"The biggest barrier in parent involvement is time," said Mr. Constantino, who has headed the school of around 2,270 students for six years. "This technology blows a hole in that barrier of time. It opens the doors to our school to parents 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Teachers enter information such as grades, homework assignments and attendance into a Web site, where parents with a password can see it. Parents can find out what foods have been charged to their childs lunch money account and whether their children have been given detention.
Since the Stonewall Jackson site began operating in July 1999, the response has been enormous, Mr. Constantino said. According to statistics, the site has received 470,623 hits. It got 69,647 hits on the grade component and 17,616 hits on attendance during the same period, statistics show.
Not all schools in the Washington area are planning to use the new technology. Prince Georges County school officials said they dont have enough money to fund such a project. However, parents are always welcome to visit the schools and talk with teachers about their childrens progress, said Tony Ruffin, a county schools spokesman.
In the District, school officials said that while they are looking into implementing a computer program in the future, they currently use a telephone messaging system parents can use to leave voice mail for teachers and staff to learn of their childrens academic progress. Students also can access the system to learn about homework assignments if they missed a class, said Denise Tann, a city schools spokeswoman.
"Money is the big issue," Ms. Tann said. "The school system first has to prove itself to command a big-dollar budget before anything else."
School officials in Arlington said they are planning to look at the Parent Link computer program sometime in the future, but for now will stick to sending students home with weekly performance reports and expanding their telephone messaging system, which parents and teachers can use to communicate.
School officials in Montgomery County did not return calls.
Districts in many states across the country, including Washington state, already have similar computer programs, according to officials with the Center for Accountability Solutions at the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington.
Despite the suspicions of students who may feel their privacy is being violated, the law clearly states that parents have a right to look into their childrens school records, said Andrew Shen of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in the District. As long as the information posted is accurate and the system is secure, there shouldnt be a problem with privacy, he said.
Administrators said accessing such information from a site is much easier than reaching a teacher by telephone.
But Mr. Constantino warned the program may not work for every school and should not be used "as a means to an end." He said schools should still develop other ways to involve parents in their childrens education.
For example, Stonewall Jackson also provides parents with opportunities to participate in parent workshops and family outreach programs and to sit on parent advisory committees. The school also holds meetings on Saturdays instead of weeknights, when most parents would have trouble attending.
"This kind of technology should not be installed just for the sheer marquee value," Mr. Constantino said. "It should be used as one component of a larger family involvement for it to be a success."


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