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Ivy Academia: Using Technology to Increase Parent Involvement « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Ivy Academia: Using Technology to Increase Parent Involvement

Ivy Academy
Using Technology to Increase Parent Involvement

Ivy Academia Charter School

Woodland Hills, California
Founded 2004 
Start-up
1060 students
Grades K-10
Site-based
70% White, 19% Hispanic, 7% African-American, 4% Asian, 2% Filipino, 1% Native American, <1% Pacific Islander, 1% Other
3% English language learners
0% special needs
10% receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

http://www.ivyacademia.com

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

Parents who are single, English-
language learners, high-poverty and/or have attained a low level of education all tend to participate less in their children’s school than do more affluent parents. Ivy Academia’s parents found it difficult to attend school functions and received inadequate communication from the school.

The Woodland Hills, Calif. charter school’s administration designed six strategies, all using technology, to confront these issues.

Implementation

Ivy has expanded the definition of technology beyond computers. One technology strategy employed was the installation of  wireless Internet access throughout its campus, thanks to a $360,000 federal grant.

Another technology strategy employed was the school’s installation of remote-controlled, security cameras in strategic campus locations where students congregate: the library, computer lab, cafeteria, school playground and along the main hallways. Monitoring and recording student behavior allows staff to document infractions while providing parents with a greater sense of security about their children.

Ivy’s strategies include three e-mail communication tools: an e-newsletter, e-blast, and Teleparent.

Ivy Update, the weekly e-newsletter, announces school activities and events; a hard copy is also sent home with students. The school uses the program Constant Contact to track the readership of and reactions to specific components of the e-mail, and to survey parents about school operational issues.

The e-blast system disseminates such information as a change in schedule or a last-minute need for parent volunteers, or a special or unusual event concerning the school, parents or students. E-blasts are short and to the point, to convey a sense of urgency.
Teleparent, an automated parental notification system, allows school teachers and administrators to send student-specific and general messages home over the telephone or the Internet. It can report school attendance and tardiness, schoolwide emergencies, and messages about individual student performance. Teachers can record their own voices in the Teleparent system, which has multiple language options.

Ivy also employs two Web-based tools: the school’s web site and PowerSchool.

At http://www.ivyacademia.com , the school community may access an events calendar and newsletter archive; track parent volunteer hours and opportunities; learn about such activities as athletics and the arts; and pre-order lunch from a list of menu options. It hosts a community forum and bulletin board function, eCorner. The site includes a prominent link to PowerSchool.

PowerSchool, a web-based student information system, provides parents and students with real-time information on grades, attendance and assignments. The program also provides a secure format for parent-teacher communication.

Requirements

The budget for hardware and much of the software for Ivy’s technology-based, parent involvement initiatives came from the $360,000 federal charter school implementation grant in 2004. A school should budget at least $200,000 for an adequate technology infrastructure: communications, computers, software, installation, configuration and initial training.

Ongoing maintenance and upgrades can easily run $5000 per month, according to Ivy’s executive director for finance; Ivy leases PowerSchool at a cost of approximately $500 per month. Ivy employs School World as webmaster and web designer. The security cameras, telephone- and data networks are maintained by outside contractors.

Staffing needs include a lead support/training person for PowerSchool ($50,000 per year) and an employee working 25 percent time to maintain the technology aspects of E-Blasts, Ivy Update, flyers, Teleparent and e-mail ($20,000). Teachers are expected to help each other with simple technology problems. The promising practice lead teacher — also a classroom teacher – provides one-on-one tech support as needed.

All the initial technology equipment, infrastructure design and build-out costs came from the initial 2004 grant. This includes 120 computers; high speed Wi Fi capability; Internet-connected Smartboards in each classroom; a high-speed network printer and copier; and a digital telephone system with voicemail for each teacher and telephones in every classroom. Ivy uses a hosted PowerSchool system but may acquire an in-house server; this would cut the lease fee but require another full-time employee to maintain it.

Ivy conducts professional development sessions on the school technology two weeks before the start of the fall semester, during winter break and throughout the school year.

Lessons Learned

As technology constantly updates itself, change should be anticipated and budgeted for: funds for ongoing maintenance, research and upgrades. Ivy chose a fixed-cost service contract, $1,500 per month, for computer maintenance, with a written schedule for all software modifications, upgrades and replacements.

To ensure accuracy and quality, key technology projects such as the school website should be developed and maintained by professionals.  If parents feel that the web site provides something of value, they will use it.

School communications must be compatible with Macs as well as PCs; should be offered in the home languages of parents who are English Language Learners; and written at level that is easily comprehended by all parents.

All parents were required to provide an e-mail address at the time of registration, but some failed to do so; intentionally or inadvertently gave invalid e-mail addresses, did not have in-home e-mail or Internet capability; couldn’t or chose not to use their existing e-mail capabilities; had difficulty with e-mail in English; were unskilled in or phobic about technology.

Even after mandatory professional development training, some teachers and administrators were ill-equipped or disinterested in using the technology at hand. Some teachers were afraid to input data to PowerSchool in fear of losing their information altogether; as a result, parents found stale information and didn’t use the program. The promising practice lead teacher resolved the problem with additional training for the uncooperative teachers, who marveled at the ease in producing report cards with PowerSchool.

Conclusion

Unlike a flyer stuffed into a backpack and lost forever, e-blast and e-newsletters have succeeded in bringing information to Ivy parents.

Thanks to the multi-channel dissemination of information, parents have become more involved with school activities and were more aware of available opportunities for involvement. They have found PowerSchool easy to use, with or without tech support from Ivy, and an informative tool to monitor their children’s progress in school. That monitoring (or the threat of it) has led to improved rates of homework completions\.
Ivy’s enrollment has increased several fold over the past several years, but its academic performance has remained consistent, with API scores of 854, 851 and 846 for 2005 through 2007. In each of those years, Ivy met its AYP growth goals as well.

According to faculty and parents, the school’s emphasis on parent involvement has created and maintained a school culture that was conducive to academic excellence. Students have been made aware that they were accountable for their actions and that the entire school family was committed to their success.

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