I-Now: Schools plead for patience

Published 12:05 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

Public school parents anxious to keep track of their children’s grades can’t right now, thanks to a conversion to a new computer management system.

The schools had previously used the computer-based STI Legacy program to allow parents to track grades and reports. However, with the start of the 2010-11 school year, public schools in Alabama made a state-mandated switch to the I-NOW student management system.

And officials with both the Pike County and Troy City school systems say they don’t know when the systems will be ready for parents to use.

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“We just want to ask that parents bear with us while we try to get our parent portal up,” said Wayne Hubbard, technology director for Troy City Schools. “It will be up as soon as possible, but this has just been a learning process for everybody in the school system.’

Both Troy City Schools and Pike County Schools had to deal with numerous issues with the I-NOW system during the first week of school. Although the software is created by Software Technology Incorporated (STI), the transition has not been smooth.

“There were a lot of issues, and I think many of them were due to the scope of it,” said Hubbard said. “Whenever you’re trying to roll out something across 60 or 65 school systems, by nature, you’re going to have a lot of problems.”

In the Pike County schools, many of the problems concerned enrolling students into the system, an issue superintendent Mark Bazzell said was caused by a number of things.

“We’re still trying to get everybody in the state to be uniform,” Bazzell said. “So, when you enter things into the computer, you have problems with case sensitivity or with abbreviations like street, for example.”

And even though both systems have been preparing for the switch for months, the rollout has proven difficult. “We had been gearing up for this switch for months and months,” Bazzell said. “We did plenty of training, and we had people in for some extra hours. This really was a major undertaking, and it was very time-consuming making this switch. During the conversion, we had a lot of additional staff in working long hours, and our counselors in particular spent a lot of time trying to facilitate this change.”

Hubbard said TCS had been working on the conversion process for roughly a year before the switch was made, but the importing of most of the actual data had to wait until the summer break between academic years.

“Once we had the end of the academic year, and all our reports were turned in and approved, we were able to go into rollover, where we had to upload all of our student data to STI for the conversion to I-NOW,” Hubbard said.

Both Bazzell and Hubbard said the system is working better than it was during the first week of school, yet both also said there is plenty of work left to be done.

“I think it’s going to be several weeks before all the bugs are worked out,” Bazzell said. “It won’t be a quick fix, and we’ll have to deal with some things on a case-by-case basis … We’re still having some difficulty with the system, but it is better now than it was.”

The current I-NOW kinks must be worked out in a timely fashion, however, as accurate data is needed for 40-day reports to ensure proper funding for school systems.

And, while there have been problems with the switch, the I-NOW system does have its share of positive aspects.

“This is just a huge difference between the two systems,” Hubbard said. “With the old Legacy system, it was school-centric. Every school had a database that fed to a district database, so there were multiple databases throughout the state. Now, there is just one database because it is a web-based system … accessible through a browser to anyone with Internet access.”

Along with a streamlined setup, I-NOW will also provide an increased level of access to not only teachers and administrators, but also to parents and students as well.

“It still does many of the basic things that Legacy system did, but now we have real-time data that updates constantly as opposed to data that would update periodically,” Hubbard said. “It’s also a lot more accessible. When we get our parent system up and running, parents and students will be able to go online and look at the grades for that one particular student.”

Both school systems will have parent and student access that will enable students and parents to view grades, but the timetable for that access is not set.

Bazzell said STI is sending a representative to PCS next week, and more will be known about parent and student access at that time.