HOLIDAY — Traci Fernandes sat at a laptop computer, her two daughters at her side, in the Paul R. Smith Middle School cafeteria.
In past years, school registration day would have meant hand cramps and cross outs as she filled out papers by the dozen, writing and rewriting her children's names, address and other information over and over.
Not this go-round.
Officials at Smith Middle decided to computerize the entire process, streamlining the effort for parents and school alike. If successful, the idea could spread to other Pasco schools. A district committee is keeping tabs on the pilot project.
Most parents on Tuesday walked away pleased. Complaints were few and far between, even when the wireless system knocked out computers momentarily or when a few screens froze up. (Thank goodness for the immediate, automatic save function the school built in.)
"It's faster," Fernandes said, watching her eighth-grader Briana type because she had better keyboarding skills. "If you make a mistake, you can go back and delete it. You don't have to scratch it out."
"I think it's great," said Wanda Battle, who sat nearby registering her eighth-grade daughter Keyondra Johnson. "What makes it the best is you see all of your information and all you have to do is verify it. And it doesn't take as long as filling out all the paperwork."
For current district students like Keyondra, parents could find their records in the system by entering their name or student identification number. Then it was a matter of making sure everything was correct and filling out a few blank spaces.
Parents of new students would type in certain fields, such as name, just once, and the program would instantly put that information in the entire set of documents, from the media release form to emergency contacts. Why should anyone have to rewrite the information at a time when computer forms can do the copying so much more easily, principal Chris Dunning said.
Completing the documents averaged about 20 minutes, considerably less time than filling out the papers by hand, said assistant principal Susan Seibert, who organized the effort and wrote the computer program. She made sure the school had plenty of computers available (144) so no one would have to wait, and had several staffers on hand to answer questions, though there were few.
Ease of use for parents was a critical piece of the puzzle, Seibert said, noting that many working parents often have limited time to bring their kids to school to register, get their schedules and meet their teachers.
At the same time, Dunning said, computerizing the information benefits the school, too.
The most powerful piece, he explained, was having all parent and child information, such as emergency numbers and e-mail addresses, in a database that's easily accessible to teachers and administrators. The improved availability of information should facilitate the school's work to improve its communications with parents.
"Some of these things we would never enter into a database," Dunning said, explaining that much of the information often just sat in file folders in an office, sometimes in difficult-to-read handwriting.
With hundreds of the school's 1,068 students already through the system, Dunning ruled the project a success.
"It's gone off better than we ever expected," he said.
Now he's confident enough to explore the next step, having parents register online from home and then come pick up the already printed out papers and documents on meet-the-teacher day.
Maybe next year.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.