ASD Embraces Zangle

Everyone’s talking about Zangle, the new student information system that the Anchorage School District has adopted for schools this year. So far the transition has been a little rocky with students being left out, missing information and so on. However, the glitches so far haven’t been unexpected. “Anytime you’re transferring that much information, there’s going to be a few problems” says head counselor David Donk. Most students don’t know very much about the new program. “My schedule looks different,” says senior Kjirsten Tornfelt. But this seems to be the extent of the knowledge. Zangle has been a 5 year and $15 million dollar switch. Mary McKean, the Zangle Project Manager for the Anchorage School District, said “Zangle will allow our employees to be more independent.” The old system was extremely old. McKean describes it as a “very archaic system patched together with cyber versions of duct tape.” The problem with the old system was that it was a bunch of different systems. There was a system for attendance, and a system for grades, and a system for health. Zangle combines all that information and puts it in one place. The Anchorage School District has been talking about switching to a new system for the last five years. They signed a contract with Zangle in June of 2007, and since then have been working toward the switch. “Zangle is designed to house information related to students,” says McKean. The information includes health, academic, attendance, and programs the students have been enrolled in. Zangle basically takes all the information pertaining to a student and puts it in one place. Before teachers had to go searching for different kinds of information, but now it’s all right there in front of them. The old system was 25 years old, and it didn’t allow the flexibility that Zangle does. “The school district switched over because we needed an update on technology,” says McKean. In the old system, teachers were required to fill out bubble sheets for students grades. Then the secretary would scan them and process them, and off would go the progress reports. Zangle has four parts: the administration part which deals with the administrators and attendance; Teacher Connect, which the teachers use for grading; Parent Connect, where parents can access grades online, amongst other information; and Student Connect, which is not yet up and running. Once it is, students will be able to check their grades online. The administration does not know when Student Connect will come online. Now, teachers submit grades online and progress reports will be sent off that way. Zangle is newer and faster, but it’s still a lot to learn. “It seems that most teachers are doing well with the transition,” says McKean. The counseling department is happy for the switch. “Scheduling is a lot easier,” says Donk. “Zangle prints schedules for the whole year, so we can start seeing kids with holes in their schedule second semester now.” The switch to Zangle has been being talked about for the last seven years, and this year the change has finally been made. “The old system was decades old,” says McKean, so comparatively Zangle is a breath of fresh air, however new and complicated it seems at the moment. A couple of the things that relate directly to student’s lives include attendance, online grades and loss of teacher’s ability to email progress reports to parents. Teachers are encouraged to take attendance and send it off at the beginning of the period now, instead of waiting until the end of the day. This means that kids who are tardy are usually counted absent and have to take the initiative themselves to go get their records changed. Online grades are now available for classes where teachers are using Zangle. They are posted when the teacher enters the grade in the gradebook, instead of when the teacher posts them online. This eliminates online grade that might have been posted but not updated. Many teachers are lamenting the loss of the feature that allows them to e-mail progress reports home. Most students aren’t sorry to see this feature go, but motivated parents can still go check grades online. Marty Lang, the curriculum principal at Dimond, explained why emailing progress reports home is no longer a feature. Emailing student’s progress report was actually violating a law: the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Acts, or FERPA. FERPA deals with the privacy of students, and emailing progress reports is considered a violation of that privacy. FERPA is also the reason that parents are required to come pick up the letter that will give them access to ParentConnect. The letters can not be mailed out because they contain instructions on how to access information about students, such as grades, attendance, contact numbers and health history. Mailing this out is a violation of FERPA, and so the school district is asking schools to have parents come pick these letters up. “The letters can be picked up at school events,” says Lang. These school events include the academic awards ceremony, parent-teacher conferences and any time when parents are in the building. And six months from now, when there are still letters sitting at Dimond, the school will start making phone calls home asking parents to come pick them up. It’s not ideal, but it’s what’s going to happen. Zangle is still new and unfamiliar, but it will become an integral part of school.