Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

City schools make tech leap online
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Aug 21, 2014, 12:59

COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Parents in the city are now able to check the latest school news on Facebook and Twitter and soon will be able to see their kids’ grades directly from their smartphones as well.

As the beginning of the new school year continues to draw nearer on Sept. 2, Colonial Heights Public Schools have taken several steps to become more technologically informative and efficient, including the installation of a brand new student information system and creation of social media accounts.

Much like the city’s emergency radio communications system, the previous student information database utilized in Colonial Heights schools was outdated and the vendor would not continue to service or support the system. This led public officials to search for alternative options.

A committee of teachers, administrators and technical personnel reviewed several programs before they decided that the Pearson PowerSchool system was the best option with regard to “costs, functionality and support,” according to Tim Tillman, the director of technology and learning for Colonial Heights Public Schools.

PowerSchool is an online program that stores information such as grades, student demographics, class schedules, attendance rates and historical data through a swift, convenient and secure website, according to Pearson.

Accessible through both iPhone and Android mobile devices, PowerSchool supports 13 million students in over 65 countries, and operates in every state in the United States, according to Pearson.

The new program efficiently integrates student user data with other programs in the school system, therefore cutting down on several manual steps from school staff members, Tillman said.

“For instance, students listed in PowerSchool can automatically be shared with Follett Destiny, our library circulation software.  It takes a step out of the process and our librarians don’t have to manage a user list,” Tillman said. “PowerSchool also more easily integrates with Virginia Department of Education requirements for electronic Standards of Learning testing.”

Petersburg, Hanover, Henrico, Goochland and Charlottesville are several other localities in the surrounding region that have already implemented PowerSchool.

PowerSchool, a student information system, differs from a program such as Blackboard, a Learning Management System, in that PowerSchool is used for recording and reporting data, where Blackboard allows for the distribution, sharing and submission of class materials and assignments.

In addition to upgrading their student information database, Colonial Heights Public Schools just launched Twitter and Facebook accounts over the summer, through which have been posted links to educational articles,  citywide events and news related to the city’s schools.

“We hope that social media can be another conduit for relating the important events, reminders, and celebration of our student accomplishments,” Tillman said.

Tillman said that the websites have already demonstrated popularity in the community.

You can follow ColonialHeightsK12 @CHPSK12 on Twitter or visit the Facebook page at Colonial Heights Public Schools.

With advancements in technology shaping the future of education, Tillman said that the school system recognizes that touch-based and mobile devices will become major educational players and that “we are building the framework now.”

Currently, each school in the city has a mobile computer lab which can be used by teachers for their individual classes through a scheduling process, but all students are not assigned their own designated laptops, Tillman said. These mobile labs do not include the classrooms filled with computers that also act as a lab.

Tillman added that approximately 100 students at Colonial Heights High School actually do get assigned an individual laptop based on a specific science curriculum that has popularly been in effect for eight years, and he said that iPads, iPod Touchs and other various mobile technologies are applied in several classroom settings in the school system.

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