In-Depth

School District 51 builds a portal

HONORABLE MENTION: E-business Application Development

Mesa County Valley School District #51 in Grand Junction, Colo., wanted to provide parents with secure online access to student information, as well as facilitate communication between the school and parents.

Student information is maintained in four separate apps, so the school district embarked on a project called Parent Bridge to create a Web portal and data consolidation app. The goal of the portal was to point parents to information such as current class schedule, daily assignments, attendance, course history, demographics and standardized test score information.

Currently in the pilot stage, Parent Bridge has been implemented at one middle school with 420 students. Once in development, the development team realized that teachers and administrators would benefit as much as parents from the availability of this information. Future releases will include the ability for parents to correct student demographic information and online arena scheduling for high-school students.

The district also expects a positive impact on student achievement by increasing parent involvement, fostering student responsibility and providing teachers with relevant student performance information, which will allow them to tailor teaching techniques to the needs of their students.

Due to the lack of a budget, the project relied on existing technology for its success. To eliminate the risk of releasing confidential information to the wrong hands, the team developed a stringent parent registration policy and the application was published to a secure site.

Parent Bridge data is stored in multiple SQL Server databases, and SQL Server Data Transformation Services was enlisted to consolidate student data. The portal runs on a Windows 2000 Server with IIS and ColdFusion Server. It accesses SQL Server data on two separate Windows 2000 Servers.

The portal is set up to allow each school to select its own parameters and post e-mail messages to parents. A troubleshooting feature allows parents, students and teachers to create a "help desk call," which writes a record to Technology Service's standard call-tracking database.

The project lacked a high-level management sponsor, thus forcing the programming staff to fill the roles of designer, developer, marketer, trainer and support staff. If the district had the project to do over, it would secure an upper-management sponsor.

The team overcame initial reluctance from teachers by demonstrating the potential for enhanced communication with parents and time-saving student research. Teachers ended up becoming the loudest cheerleaders for the project.

Instead of using testing tools, programmers did unit and system testing, and the student data quality expert validated the data content.

APPLICATION PROFILE
Project: Parent Bridge Purpose: Web portal and data consolidation app designed to provide parents, teachers and students with class schedules, attendance info, daily assignments and standardized test scores.

Benefits: The project increases parent involvement, fosters student responsibility and provides teachers with relevant student performance information.

Platform: Windows 2000 Server TOOLS ColdFusion, SQL Server, SQL Server Data Transformation Services, Borland Delphi

DEVELOPMENT TEAM
Belinda Thompson, Jenann Wakefield, Toby Farley

About the Author

Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at freelancewriter@gates-works.com.

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