NORWALK, Conn. – An electronic window for parents to see what their adolescent children are doing in Norwalk Public Schools is now open.
The Parent Portal, which gives parents of middle school and high school students the opportunity to get real-time information as the school day progresses, is just one of the technological upgrades the school system is undergoing, said Ralph Valenzisi, Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships. Also in the works are a website upgrade, a reverse 911 via texts, and social media outlook tools, which will give the new communication director plenty to do when the position is filled, he said. All of these things are linked, he said.
The Parent Portal went live Friday. Parents can log in and get access to student schedules, check their attendance and their grades, and peek at the regular grade book, which provides “real time data of how they’re doing,” Valenzisi said. Parents of high school students can see if their children are skipping classes as well, he said.
Coming soon are optional text alerts or email notifications when new grades are posted. Parents can also email a teacher directly through the portal, which is part of the Genesis student information system. Elementary school students can expect to get the same Big Brother treatment in the fall.
“When we talk about really educating students, one of the key pieces is communication with the families,” Valenzisi said. “This offers a mechanism to really, really develop a way that we communicate better with the parents.”
Parents who can’t get any information out of their children when they ask “How was school?” now have more to go on, he said.
“This creates an opportunity for parents to really have conversations with students,” he said. “Like, ‘Well, I see you had an assignment on this. What was that about?’”
A Brien McMahon High School student said Friday that he didn’t mind the upcoming scrutiny.
“I think it’s fine,” Kevin Martinez said. “I’m not against it. If you’re a good student and you know you get good grades, you should be good with that parent portal. But if you’re not doing so good it’s a way for us to get educated.”
Another student said he “really didn’t care,” while three parents said they hadn’t heard of it yet.
Maria Barragan said it sounded “really good.”
“I’m interested in my daughter. Always it is better to know,” she said.
Valenzisi said parents were already checking the system Friday. They had been informed by an email blast, he said.
“It’s our first step in trying to create more communication with the community at large, specifically the parents,” he said. “Some of the next things we’re going to be working on in the next few months is … redesigning the web page. When that’s actually done we’ll have a district Twitter and Facebook feed. We just need to have better communication tools and upgrade them, make them a little more systemic. So those things are coming. It’s going to be a few months before we actually roll them out the way we want to.”
A website template is being developed with a company called SharpSchool, a registered and approved provider of e-ratable services, Valenzisi said. This means that a portion of the website cost is eligible for reimbursement from the federal government.
The redesign will include a search function for school policies and Board of Education minutes, he said. If you want to look for information about bullying, for instance, things will be much easier, he said.
He is hopeful the redesign will be online early next year, he said.
“You’ll see the district site change first and then the school sites will come, because I have to do a lot of professional management and development at the school level — how we follow that through, how the work flows are put in place,” he said. “Because if it’s social media or a website, if it’s not being kept up to date it’s not very effective.”
Professional development was one of the things that needed to be done for Parent Portal, he said.
“My department has really rolled up their sleeves and teachers really did a lot of work at the schools to make sure that they’re using the online grade book and that they’re populating it,” he said. “Once we knew that everybody was in place and the teachers were all using that same online grade book and they had everything in one place, it made sense to then start turning on the Parent Portal and getting it moving forward.”
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