School district rolls out tech changes (3/11/10)

March 11, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Since the unveiling of a new Web site last fall, new technological changes continue emerging within the Williston School District.

For the first time, the student placement process will be wholly completed online. Also, the district is currently moving towards becoming a Google-based campus.

For Bonnie Birdsall, Williston’s technology integration specialist, the next few months will be an exciting time. Moving student placement to the Web site will streamline the process, she said. And using free Google applications will enhance communication and save the district money in the long run, Birdsall added.

Currently on the district’s Web site, parents can register a new account by creating a login name and password. Parents are asked to create the account before March 15. The online placement form will be available starting March 18. Birdsall said the account information will be used for school purposes only and will not be shared with outside groups.

Parents that don’t register online can still participate in the placement process the old-fashioned way — using pens and pencils to fill out paper forms.

Nearly 300 parents created Web site accounts since an e-mail went out last Friday in regards to the information.

“I found that to be a really good response,” Birdsall said.

Birdsall said the district is also working on more features that will be available for parents with site accounts. She envisions they will be able to visit sites dealing specifically with their students’ academic house, including information on schedules, homework and projects.

While parents become more involved with the district via the Web site, teachers and staff are preparing themselves for a major change. By mid-April, e-mail addresses for all school personnel will switch to Google addresses, which will allow for more efficient communication within the district and with parents, Birdsall said.

By using Gmail by Google, teachers and staff will also gain access to calendar applications, as well.

Many changes similar to the ones in Williston are occurring within schools across Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Champlain Valley Union High School made a similar move last year, which Birdsall called a success.

“They were the ones that figured things out for everybody,” she said.

School personnel and students are already familiar with Google document applications. Teachers urge students to use “Google docs” on group projects and individual work. The application allows users to work on assignments and save their work within Google. This lets those working on group projects access work on any computer and make changes from there.

As Allen Brook School enrichment teacher Betty Poirot told the School Board at a February meeting, “Google docs is changing the world.”

Parents will continue to be updated on the upcoming technology changes in the Williston School District, Birdsall said. And while teacher e-mail addresses are changing, the old ones will continue to work for some time, she added.

Birdsall believes Google and its Web-based tools are altering the way people communicate and how everyone uses technology. And it’s for the better, she said.

“(Google is) forging the way with great technology, so why fight it?” Birdsall said.