A Web site not only lets some Pinellas parents keep tabs on their kids' academics - they can also connect with teachers and receive e-mail alerts.
By MONIQUE FIELDS
Published September 29, 2003
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
The online system is expected to give parents more leverage with their children, many of whom are skilled spin doctors when it comes to their education.
If you attend a Pinellas County school, your parents soon will be able to see whether you were tardy to class, what grade you received on that pop quiz and every assignment in your future.
The reason is ParentCONNECT, computer software that allows parents to access, from home, their child's school records. It already is being used at three Pinellas high schools, including Northeast High, which piloted the program in January.
"A parent sees this and goes, "Wow,"' said Cindy Hearn, a technology specialist at Northeast. "A student sees this and goes, "Oh, no. I'm in trouble now."'
Two other schools - Largo and Pinellas Park high schools - began using the software in August, empowering their parents to snoop at will. Tarpon Springs High will begin using the program Oct. 10.
"We know what's going on," said Donna Bullock, a ParentCONNECT fan at Northeast High. "This really determines what (my daughter's) social life is."
Her daughter, Tricia, was not amused.
"Oh, that's nice," was her response when she learned about her mother's electronic prying.
The parental oversight is made possible through Student Administrative System Information, or SASI. The new database allows teachers to enter their class rolls, grades, absences and tardies into a computer program, which is queried when a parent signs onto the ParentCONNECT Web page (www.parent.pinellas.k12.fl.us) and enters a password.
The School Board recently approved a $1.7-million contract to install SASI in every Pinellas school. The system is expected to give parents more leverage with their children, many of whom are skilled spin doctors when it comes to their education.
Some have been known to confiscate their teachers' letters or give them wrong phone numbers. Others intercept calls at home, call block the school's number and erase messages from answering machines.
Northeast High principal Michael Miller once received a call from a Kinko's about students making copies of their report cards and changing the grades. They might have gotten away with it, he said, had they not left a report card in the copy machine.
Of the 30 school districts that have installed SASI in Florida, Pinellas is the only one in the Tampa Bay area to start up ParentCONNECT, said Leslie Eicher, a spokeswoman for Pearson Digital Learning, the creators of SASI. Across the nation, more than 2,200 school districts have the program, with about 425 offering ParentCONNECT.
Parents must use a password to get information from the Web site, which allows them to send e-mails to their child's teacher.
About 200 parents have signed up for the program at Largo High School. More than 300 parents have signed up for the service at Northeast and Pinellas Park.
Not surprisingly, students aren't thrilled with the innovation.
"It takes the growing-up process out of school," said Marcus Massey, a senior at Northeast.
Students need to learn how to be independent, he said. Taking care of their grades and getting to class on time is part of that, especially for college-bound students.
"I've been taking responsibility the whole time," said Tracey Schofield, a senior at Northeast High. But what if his parents want to know what's going on? "Then ask me," he said.
In other words, parents need to chill. Nagging, students say, doesn't help them achieve.
Kate Cillian, a ninth-grader at Northeast, wasn't as concerned.
"We look at it together," she said. "My parents just look at the grades. They are not trying to control me."
The program offers e-mail alerts in five areas: discipline, unexcused absences, tardies, missing assignments and failing grades. If a problem in one of these areas is posted in the database, the alert reminds parents to check the Web site.
Paulette Edmisten, the director of the center for information technology at Northeast High, recently had a student who wasn't doing his class work. The parent got the news on the Web site, sent a message to Edmisten and they agreed to move the child to another seat.
"It puts the responsibility back on the parents, where it should be, and it keeps us on our toes," Edmisten said.