SW Developer's Training and High School's Workshops Are Pivotal for Success

Cory-Rawson High School in Rawson, Ohio, and the area's middle school are located within the same building; an elementary school is located nearby. The high school has been involved with grade2 electronic gradebook software from Excelsior Software in Greeley, Colo., since it was developed three years ago. Originally, the high school purchased a network license to run grade2 on 50 stations. At Cory-Rawson, all teachers have computers in their classrooms, plus access to a computer lab. All of these computers are networked together. Training the Trainer The school sent John Hassan, their network system operator, to Greeley to attend Excelsior's one-week Basic Training seminar during the summer of 1991. There he learned to design gradebooks, maintain numeric and letter grades, track learning objectives, keep attendance records and create template files. When Hassan returned, he set up grade2 gradebooks to fit the school's particular needs for instructors' use. He then held workshops for all high school teachers and interested middle school instructors, teaching them about the program and how to input grades. "The lab was full, so we had about 24 teachers there," Hassan comments. When those teachers began using the software, they got other teachers interested, thus setting off a chain reaction. Those newly trained teachers trained others, until virtually all 18 high school instructors came on board. "We have never forced teachers to use the software," asserts Hassan. As the school and Hassan strengthened their relationship with Excelsior, more training was deemed necessary. In the summer of 1992, Hassan returned to Greeley for advanced training on the Report Editor function. During that week he and roughly 19 educators from other schools designed reports that provide feedback for teachers and students. Once back in Ohio, Hassan trained the other system personnel to modify and write standard reports for use by all teachers, including interim reports, progress reports and year-end failure reports. Automating the System Cory-Rawson has automated many aspects of their system using Excelsior products. Two years ago in the fall, the school became a beta test site for Excelsior's Student Viewer program, which allows students to view their class grades and any teacher comments. "There were no books on the software," Hassan recalls, "so we trained teachers through demonstrations, then let the students try it on their own time." When problems arose, Hassan called Excelsior; they often came up with solutions overnight. Recently the high school decided to switch from its network license to a site license plan, which will also provide middle school and elementary teachers with access to the software. The site license includes a provision that allows all instructors to take copies of grade2 home. Plus, teachers now uses Companion, another Excelsior product, to check out floppy disks loaded with their classes' grade information. They can update and change grade files at home, regardless of their home computer's platform. The software makes sure that the instructor downloads that disk back into the system before he or she can change additional files on the school's network. This reduces conflicts and maintains grade integrity. Transferring Grades In 1993-94, the school piloted a new program in which grade information compiled in grade2 is transferred directly to A-SITE, a mainframe computer system that sends data to the district head office for report card generation. Data on A-SITE is also uplinked to state agencies. First, a test run was conducted. "This was absolutely necessary for good PR and our public image," Hassan explains. "We didn't want any mistakes." The tests went smoothly, so in October the pilot transfer of grade2 data to A-SITE occurred. Hassan explains that teachers had the option of using bubble sheets for grade transfers or to try the new system -- nine teachers elected to send 50 of their classes' grades electronically. There were very few problems, and for those that did arise, "Excelsior's technical support was great." They knew what Hassan was planning to do, and were prepared to help him when a problem came up. Hassan had used Eg2I to transfer grades on a class-by-class basis. In the future, the school will use Excelsior's new Data Server software to build custom student files based on the information A-SITE needs. The program will update student files at the school level automatically when A-SITE's information changes -- new students arrive or students leave the system, for example. By this fall, Hassan plans to have Data Server up and running; training will begin in late August. "This is key to saving teachers time and increasing productivity," the system operator states. "If it d'esn't make teacher workloads easier, there's no real reason for doing it." Training Is Pivotal Training is pivotal, according to Hassan. "In the end, the real key is that without training, the whole system won't work," he maintains. Hassan strongly believes that budget dollars be invested in the following fashion: one-third for hardware, one-third for software and one-third for training. Excelsior's extensive training opportunities support Hassan's philosophy. "Excelsior d'es a great job," he says. "You get a whole week of very intensive training, but they make you feel welcome."

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.