ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The planets are within reach at Marion High School but no one has to hitch a ride on a space shuttle.
All it takes is the power of the Internet and a new computer software program called K12 Planet.
K12Planet is a student information management software program designed specifically for students, teachers, parents and administrators to view information stored in the school computer system at MHS.
“I’m very excited about it and the students are very excited about it,” said Jim Versch, art teacher and student information manager at MHS.
Students can view their own information and authorized parents and guardians can see their children’s information by logging on to the Internet at www.k12planet.com or logging on to the school Web site to get into K12Planet, a secure Web site.
Available online through K12Planet is attendance, grades and report cards, homework assignments and class schedules, messages and alerts, school activities and events, class and general Web-site resources, conduct, e-mail and course catalogs.
According to Versch, MHS is the only school in the area using K12Planet. The closest school he knows, using the system, is Emporia High School.
Versch was girls volleyball coach at MHS for 14 years when administration approached him to take on the role of student information manager instead. He accepted the challenge.
“My job (involves) student management, information grading programs for teachers and this K12 management, which is our connection between home and school,” Versch said.
“Most schools have some kind of information managing system of some sort, unless you have some secretary who has all the books and all the files and you know where everything is,” Versch said.
About four to five years ago, unhappy with a student management software program called Sassi already in place, Versch said he sought new software and discovered a management software program called Win School.
Student management programs, like Sassi and Win School, are software designed to store student details, their contacts at home, conduct and grades.
As more people in the school system became involved, the decision was made to drop Sassi, purchase Win School, and incorporate the software program district wide.
“So our superintendent jumped on the bandwagon, too, and we bought the software-which is relatively expensive-but all (management systems) are expensive,” Versch said.
One part of the Win School software package was an information grading software program called E-Class, which enables teachers to enter grades into the computer system.
“We started E-Class in the high school,” Versch said. “I did all the training for all the teachers.”
Previously, teachers would write in a book, fill out a report card, and send the report card home with the student.
With E-Class, the teacher enters grades in the computer. Those grades are exported to the counselor’s office, storing them in a massive database.
“From there they hit a button and say ‘print report cards’ and it prints all the report cards based on what you sent,” Versch said.
“E-Class is an important factor in the eventual implementation of K12Planet. The same grades that we’re exporting from our desktops to the server in the counselor’s office, are also the same server that we hit a button and it exports all those grades up to K12Planet.”
K12Planet, Win School and E-Class software are made by a Canadian-based company, Chancery.
“Three years ago, Chancery came up with this idea of K12Planet and they started sending out flyers and having workshops,” Versch said.
Two years ago, Versch and Mike Fruechting, USD 408 technology coordinator, went to one of the workshops in Topeka.
“We came back all excited about it,” Versch said.
Versch and Fruechting presented the idea of implementing K12Planet to Superintendent Gerald Henderson in an informal meeting. But it was the middle of the school year and it was “kind of put on the back burner,” he said.
At that time, they were in the process of implementing Win School in the other grades.
With Win School and E-Class in place in the high school, the next step was to push for K12Planet.
An incentive to using the program was the cost. It was a free package for schools who purchased the Win School software.
Starting in January of this year, Versch and Fruechting began a trial program with K12Planet. Versch assumed the role of teacher and parent, Fruechting took on the role of administrator, and Versch’s children were the students.
“And so we’re seeing this triangle working-the teacher sending the grades, the grades getting exported, and the parent pulling the grades back down,” Versch said.
The administration gave the green flag and by summer the Versch-Fruechting team was organizing the program for the current school year.
The next step was educating teachers how to use K12Planet. This was accomplished during the week before school started.
The third step was getting information out to the students and parents.
“So we sent letters home, we did newspaper articles in our town newspaper, and we also put information in enrollment packets,” Versch said.
At the beginning of the school year, students were in a workshop where they were shown what was available to them.
They were given a packet that included a release form to be signed by the parent and returned to the school. This release form gave the school permission to enter e-mail information into the K12Planet Web site.
Parent information meetings were set up three weeks into the first nine weeks of school because the grades weren’t available until then.
Versch didn’t want to discourage parents who might get into the site for the first time and find minimal information.
These meetings were offered during three optional time slots in two days- 7 a.m., 4 p.m. or 7 p.m
A concern prior to the meetings was coming up with a way to communicate the K12Planet information to those parents who were computer savvy compared to those who knew little about computers.
“When we put out the flyers we knew we had technologically versed parents compared to parents afraid of computers,” Versch said.
“So we gave them the options: You can come to our workshop and we’ll show you how to do this or you can get our self-starter packet and you can do this yourself.”
“If you can point and click and you know your way around a little bit, this isn’t that hard.
“Actually, every account is set up for students and parents. It’s up to them whether or not they want to access it,” he said.
According to Versch, about 40 percent of the parents have elected to be a part of the program by choosing a user-name and password, and 50 percent of the students have chosen to participate.
“And that’s increasing every day,” he said.
“We’re a population of about 225 students and I’m getting three to five kids a day” asking to participate.
Parents and their children have separate user names and passwords but they view the following same information when they log on:
n Attendance-Indicates if a student is present, has an excused or unexcused absence, or is tardy for the current month or any prior days of the month;
n Grades and report cards-Lists test scores, progress reports and report cards;
n Homework assignments and schedules-Daily assignments are posted. Also lists class schedules for students and teachers;
n Alerts and messages-Posts timely information, such as a reminder to return a permission slip. Also posts less urgent messages, such as a football team victory;
n School activities and events-Activities refers to ongoing activities, such as school clubs and teams. Events refers to activities only happening once, such as a drama presentation or football game;
n Class resources-Lists Web sites posted by teachers as class resource material;
n General resources-Lists links to educational Web sites provided by K12Planet;
n Conduct-Shows a short description of a student’s behavior and the school’s response. To view conduct information, parents and guardians must have custody of a child;
n E-mail-An underlined name in the Web site can be clicked to e-mail that person. Teachers, administrators and staff who have set up e-mail addresses can be reached this way;
n Course catalog-Each department provides a list of courses available for each grade;
n Class schedules-Students and teachers’ class schedules are posted;
n School information- Information is available concerning MHS including address, phone number, e-mail address and Web-site address. It also contains a directory of staff, administrators and teachers.
From its inception there were concerns about K12Planet.
Teachers were worried the program would require more time and thereby add to already busy schedules.
“Exporting a grade is no big deal,” Versch said. “We’re talking 30 seconds per class.” And it’s already a requirement for kindergarten through grade 12, regardless of K12Planet.
But, entering homework into the system can add as much as 30 minutes a week, if lessons are planned weekly.
And if a teacher enters alerts and messages routinely, sends and answers e-mails, or has to deal with computer glitches, this could potentially become a time-management problem.
A second concern was a technical issue. Information entered incorrectly can be exported and received immediately by a wide audience.
“Maybe I gave a kid 100 (on a test) and the actual points were 10,” Versch said. Not only is the wrong information reaching the parent and student, but it makes the teacher look inept.
A third issue was some students didn’t want their parents or guardians to have this type of information.
At the outset, Versch said he typically heard students saying the following: “My parents are going to go there and check up on me. And it’s going to be a real bummer because they’re going to find out all these bad things.”
But Versch counters: “It’s just another line of communication” to open between student and parent.
“I don’t go to check my son’s grades to punish him or to check up on him like ‘Big Brother.’ It’s to start a conversation like, ‘Gosh, I saw you missed a quiz, is there something I can help you with?'”
An additional problem on K12Planet Web site is information sent and received at a slower pace than normal.
“It takes a little bit more time in there because there is so much information,” Versch said.
Versch is quick to point out the good in the system far outweighs any negatives.
“You can log on to any computer that’s Internet accessed in the world and you can pull up” information on www.k12planet.com.
“We have seven foreign-exchange students this year. They e-mail to their parents in Russia, Germany and Japan.”
Those student’s parents who choose to be part of K12Planet can receive all their children’s online information as easily as Marion parents.
K12Planet is an additional tool allowing parents, students, teachers and administrators to communicate back and forth, said Versch.
Teachers can help students find resources by indicating an Internet site pertinent to homework assignments.
If a student in science class forgets to take home his science book, he can log on and find the table of elements he needs because the teacher created that link, Versch said.
“We need to stress this isn’t the only way we want to communicate with the public. We just feel that in a real fast-paced society like we’re in today, it can be hard for parents to reach teachers and hard for teachers to reach parents.”
Versch stresses the security of K12Planet as a Web site.
“It’s one of the most secure sites I’ve ever seen,” Versch said.
“The only thing I can view as a parent is my own child. I can’t get into somebody else’s files, I can’t ever change files.”
The same holds true for students. The only grades and conduct they can view are their own.
Teachers can view information regarding their students but can’t see the grades of students in other classes.
This student information is available to the administration and the counselors. But, they have traditionally had the right to this information, with or without K12Planet in place.
K12Planet also provides instant information- no waiting in line, no busy signals and no appointments.
“It shows you your kid’s schedule for the day so if you’re trying to schedule a dentist appointment, is it best to do it during biology or is it best to do it during P.E.?” Versch said.
Dale Honeck, principal at HHS, said although his school doesn’t use K12Planet, “it’s a neat concept.”
But Honeck is cautious.
“Five years ago we had a voice message box to get lessons and other information. But it’s hard when faculty is teaching 8:30 a.m.to 5 p.m,” Honeck said.
“It’s hard for the teachers to find time to keep the message box current and then parents get angry.”
Honeck knows there are things like K12Planet “out there” and agrees “it’s a heck of an idea.”
Marion resident Jim Darrow, whose son is a junior at MHS said, “I think it’s a good thing. Every week I go in there and check on his grades.
If I have any questions, I can e-mail the teacher. I’ve done that a couple of different times and teachers e-mail me back.
It’s easy to use. If you’ve done any surfing on the Web, it’s a piece of cake.”
Looking into the future, Versch said: “Our K12Planet right now is kind of a pilot program which is being done just for the high school. And probably about January, it’s going to happen at the middle school and next year, we’re going full blown with the elementary.