Washington County Public Schools to update system software

April 13, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |

It was the late 1970s.

People listened to music on vinyl records, cassette tapes or eight-track cartridges.

“Space Invaders” was in the arcades, but hadn’t yet hit the home video-game market.

And Apple Inc. was still producing text command-based computers.

It also was a time when Washington County Public Schools installed Pearson’s CIMS software to handle student information, business, accounting and purchasing.

Although technological and software advances have led to downloadable music files, video games with realistic graphic detail and hand-held computers, the school system is still using an updated version of CIMS software, said Arnold Hammann, the school system’s director of information management and instructional technology.

A recently approved $246 million education budget for the coming fiscal year includes $1.5 million for new software to handle student information, business, accounting and purchasing tasks, Hammann said.

That budget was presented to the Washington County Board of Commissioners, but might need to be changed if teacher pension costs end up being passed from the state to the school system in the coming fiscal year.

Over the years, the school system has purchased supplemental software such as Performance Matters, which allows parents to check some student information online, Hammann said.

School system officials hope to find software that would replace CIMS and the supplemental programs, he said.

Officials have seen three demonstrations and are still exploring available software for the student information side, but the goal is to buy a system that enables parents, teachers, principals and other administrators to track students’ progress in great detail as early as the 2013-14 school year, Hammann said.

Currently, if school administrators want a student data report produced now, a programmer writes a script to pull the data together, Hammann said. That can take from 15 minutes to eight hours to do.

Then, an update allows for that data to be converted to an Excel spreadsheet file so administrators can sort the raw data, he said.

In addition to allowing school officials to access student data within seconds or minutes, new software would give parents online access to more than the report card and benchmark assessment grades they can get now, Hammann said.

Parents would have immediate access to their child’s grades, Hammann said. Once a teacher enters a homework or quiz grade in an electronic grading book, the parent could see it online, he said.

Another benefit to parents would be the option to type in contact information one time rather than having to sign various student forms that are sent home with children at the start of the school year, Hammann said.

During a discussion March 13 about the software update, Washington County Board of Education member Paul Bailey cautioned that some families still don’t have computer and Internet access at home.

The paper option would still be available for those families, Hammann said.

County Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox told school board members March 13 that it was time to get ahead of the curve when it comes to software.

The day is coming in Maryland “where teacher performance is going to be an element of payroll,” Wilcox said.

The payroll system will need to be integrated with the student achievement system because student performance will be a major factor in teacher evaluations under Maryland law, Wilcox said.

“This is an opportunity, but it’s also a chance to do things in a pace that isn’t so rushed that we make mistakes,” Wilcox said.

The earliest the school system would request bids for new software would be July, Hammann said. After software is purchased, it will take months to install it and train employees how to use it, he said.

Wilcox told board members there’s a chance the $1.5 million might not be spent in the next fiscal year, but there will be additional significant costs in future years related to the software.

“These systems are not inexpensive,” Wilcox said.

If the school system ends up having to pay some teacher pension costs in the next fiscal year, school system officials likely would look at the software money when considering where to make cuts to pay for pensions, Wilcox said in an email to The Herald-Mail.

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