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Parents: Technology keeping them in the loop

February 28, 2013
By BETSY BETHEL - For The Times Leader , Times Leader

Technology has been a blessing to the realm of parent-teacher communication. First it was phone lines running into each classroom. Then it was a computer for each teacher set up with his or her own email account.

Now, the new direction is for schools to have interactive websites that allow teachers to post everything from daily assignments for the whole class to an individual student's grades for access by that student's parents only. Parents can ask questions and otherwise communicate via the password-protected platform, as well.

Going by names such as Edline and Parent Progress Book, these sites provide increased communication that leads to better student success, says Mary Lu Hutchins, student services director for Ohio County Schools.

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Woodsdale Elementary School teacher Martha Busack, left, Principal Kimberly Miller and parent Becky Miskiewicz discuss student goals at the school.

"Parents are learning much more about their child's performance in the classroom and are able to communicate with teachers at their leisure. ... Ongoing two-way communication between parents and the teachers of their children is critical to the child's and the school's success," Hutchins said.

"Parents have told me they love" Edline, said Cassandra Porter, principal of Sherrard Middle School in Marshall County. "They can keep track of the kids' grades. Before, maybe a progress report comes home and there's an F and parent says they had no idea. This way they can see it" and take the necessary steps to intervene with their child.

Communication by phone also has increased because of cell phones. Teachers and parents exchange calls and texts for everything from forgotten lunch money to discipline issues.

"All my teachers call home at mid-terms. I have mandated that," Porter said, noting some parents and teachers use Edline more than others, so the mid-term phone call ensures everyone is aware of the student's progress.

In addition, most school districts now have a phone system that can send a message to every parent simultaneously.

"Our One Call Now system lets us contact all parents in the district with one phone call," said Walt Skaggs, superintendent of St. Clairsville-Richland City Schools and principal of St. Clairsville High School. Messages may include an announcement that report cards are coming home or anything else that affects all students in the district including delays or cancellations.

"I left a message last night that midterms are coming home on a purple sheet and that parents should please sign it and send it back," Porter said.

"It provides more accountability for the students," said Mike McKeever, St. Clairsville Middle School principal.

"Parents have been pleased with the automatic calls," said Hutchins. "Particularly at the middle school level ... when students are not always good about bringing home information. We send out our Family Night notices that way."

Hutchins said Ohio County Schools' phone system allows the district to break out grade levels or schools, calling only eighth-grade parents about an upcoming field trip, for example.

Mail is still a viable means of communication, as well. A newsletter goes out four times a year along with report cards at Sherrard. In addition, the school nurse may send out communication regarding vaccines or other health issues at that time.

And face time is still critical. All schools still schedule parent-teacher conferences that provides a back and forth exchange of progress, areas to focus on for growth and any other concerns.

All the administrators contacted for this article who were asked said helicopter parents - parents who want to be involved in the minutiae of their child's education and who inappropriately attempt to intervene in school decisions - are not an issue.

"We have a great working relationship with parents," McKeever said. "I am grateful I have not had that situation." He said parents are "extremely involved" at St. Clairsville Middle School, and that he appreciates that they have high expectations of their children and the teachers.

Some principals wish the parents were even more involved.

"I do feel more and more parents (today) are working, so less and less volunteers can do" programs such as the school boosters at Sherrard, the members of which put on a school carnival every year, works concession stands and raise money for the sports' teams uniforms, among other things, Porter said. "We have a core group of mostly moms who run the show."

Family Nights take place twice a year at Ohio County Schools as a way to bring parents, students and teachers together for an evening that includes fun, educational programs in a gamelike format. Programs may include a math game or tips for starting effective dinner-table discussions.

In addition, parents can serve on School Improvement Councils along with teachers and community members. Superintendent Dianna Vargo also recently started a book study for parents on the SICs called "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" by Malcolm Gladwell to pinpoint areas of communication that could be improved throughout the district.

"The whole purpose is to improve communication between families and the school system so we can use our strengths to create even greater well-being for our students," Hutchins said.



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