Software programs bring changes, mixed feelings

Published 9:29 am Friday, September 2, 2011

Lines of communication between parents and schools in Alabama are broadening thanks to new statewide computer registration programs called I-Now and School Messenger.

Chilton County schools are in the process of transferring school and student information from an older Software Technology Inc. program to I-Now, according to Superintendent Dave Hayden.

“We’re still in the process of getting things together,” Hayden said. “There have been some problems with getting everything implemented and installed.”

I-Now, created by STI, is a new grading, attendance and scheduling program that will allow parents to view their children’s grades online and will notify parents immediately if their children are marked absent from school.

“It potentially could come in handy if truancy becomes an issue,” Hayden said. “Not that we have a big problem with children not coming to school. This is just another way of staying in touch.”

The schools’ new automatic calling system, School Messenger, will allow administrators to send out targeted messages to specific groups rather than a blanket message that might not apply to everyone.

Hayden said each school will have separate lists for clubs, athletic teams and other groups.

In the event of severe weather or a time change for volleyball practice, for example, Hayden said School Messenger would send an automated message to parents with important updates.

“It will do a bit more than we’re used to,” Hayden said. “Should something come up, you can break it down further.”

I-Now and School Messenger are different programs synced together, and Hayden said he hopes they are running smoothly in the next few weeks.

“It just depends on what bugs we encounter,” Hayden said. “We look for updates and upgrades periodically. We’re kind of learning as we go here.”

School systems in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile have reported problems with I-Now, and Alabama Schools Chief Joe Morton said he warned STI in a letter in October 2010 that the department could not continue to use a buggy software product, according to The Huntsville Times.

Hayden said he has not received much feedback about the new software because Chilton County schools have not yet been able to use it exclusively.

I-Now is funded by the state since it is a required program, and School Messenger runs on local and Title 1 funding, Hayden said.