Web Platform Enhances Communication Between Parents, Faculty in Hempstead ISD Community

Realizing that parental involvement is the key to improving student performance, Hempstead Independent School District, located 50 miles from Houston, Texas, had been searching for ways to keep parents updated without distracting teachers from their everyday teaching tasks. Today, Hempstead's parents no longer need to call teachers or interrupt class to confirm an assignment, check a grade or verify attendance. They simply logon to Edline, where everything they need to know is just a few clicks away. The Edline system provides an easy-to-use Web-based platform that lets families access school information from home. It also provides an array of Web publishing, groupware and e-mail management functionalities that a school's staff can use to enhance communication with parents, as well as within a school or district.

Parental Involvement

"Edline has made everything so easy," says Anthony Hill, district technology director. "Parents love it because they can instantly see up-to-the-minute details on their child's private grades and attendance without having to call the school." Edline also sends automatic e-mail alerts to parents whenever new grades are available. In addition, students can quickly check their personal "My Calendar," which Edline automatically customizes for each user so they can see their own class-specific homework or field trips, team practice schedules or club activities, and other school events, all in one calendar. "As a result, we have fewer serious interventions, students are completing more of their homework and parents are coming prepared to parent-teacher conferences," says Mona Chadwick, Hempstead ISD superintendent.

Edline functions as the complete Web site for some schools, but Hempstead uses it to enhance the district's own pre-existing Web site. It provides a secure display of private data, such as grades, an e-mail management system, as well as user-friendly teacher and activity Web pages. Hempstead implemented Edline last fall after making a commitment to improve its schools through greater parental involvement. An economically and racially diverse community, Hempstead saw the system as an important way to bring parents into the school community. "Parental involvement is essential for education, and using technology to improve parental involvement is clearly the future," says Chadwick. "Edline is a part of that future and it's gotten our staff excited."

By choosing Edline's ASP option, Hempstead had no additional hardware to configure, software to install or firewalls to manage. "I need to be maintaining our network and classroom computers, not managing Web servers and firewalls. Edline has made our technology stronger and my life easier," says Hill, who trained a 100-person teaching staff in 45-minute staff development sessions. The system also helps staff members save time. Before, teachers were busy duplicating assignments for students who missed class and speaking to parents about their child's test scores. Now, parents and students can get what they need directly from Edline, allowing teachers to take care of other needs, says Hill.

A Strong Foundation

Edline integrates seamlessly with the most popular gradebooks and student management software systems. Teachers and administrators continue to use the software they know, and with just a click they can post information to Edline. Teachers can also use the system's broadcast e-mail to send messages to anyone in their class or their parents, while administrators can send e-mail throughout the district. "Edline savesme time," says Melody Hudspeth, a third-grade teacher at Hempstead Elementary School. "Before Edline I'd write my lessons on the computer, print out worksheets and copy the lessons by hand into my lesson book. Now, I put my worksheets on Edline and use its calendar as my lesson book." Also, next year students will be able to obtain their homework and hand it in electronically via the system.

Students and parents are not the only ones to have access to critical information in real time. Administrators, special education teachers, counselors and other staff members also have access to information about students for whom they are responsible. Hempstead has brought a significant portion of their community online, even those families without Internet access at home. "We've found simple ways to make the Internet accessible, such as putting a computer with Internet access in a designated area in every school so parents without a computer at home can drop in and check Edline. We also reached out to our public library and local businesses, so parents have multiple locations to use it," says Chadwick. "Ensuring that every parent is well informed is just another way to ensure that no child gets left behind."

Funding for Edline comes from several sources, including state technology and federal entitlement funds. "Over the next few years, as we continue to expand our technology, we plan to leverage Edline and give preference to Edline-compatible technology solutions," says Hill. "We see the system as a strong foundation that we can build on."

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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.