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Q&A | Link to schools

Pinellas school portal gets a Facebook feel

The Pinellas County School District's Web portal is getting a major overhaul.

For the first time, all students, parents, teachers, staff and school administrators will look at the same Web page. The PCS Portal will look and feel more like Facebook, school officials say, and offer real-time access to attendance, grades, test data and more.

It may even put an end to that perennial excuse about the dog eating the homework.

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Luis Perez chatted with John Just, assistant superintendent for management information systems, about what's in store.

Why is the district replacing the old portal, ParentConnectxp?

The school district launched ParentConnectxp six years ago, and today about 40,000 parents sign in regularly. The district has two separate portals for teachers, another for administrators and yet another for staff. The new portal, designed by St. Petersburg-based Focus School Software, allows everyone to use the same software. No more entering the same information in two places.

How is it better?

At home, parents and students can view real-time grades, assignments, attendance records and test scores. Students can do their homework on the portal. Teachers can post content, links, files and student work, quizzes and participate in discussion boards.

Parents can also message teachers directly. Administrators and guidance counselors will also have access to the site and the ability to interact with teachers.

Over the past year, five schools — Bay Point Middle, Woodlawn Elementary, Tarpon Springs High, Thurgood Marshall Fundamental and Pinellas Virtual School — gave the new portal a test run. Everyone loved its paperless workflow system, social networking-like feel, discussion forums, viewing preferences and video abilities. Parents gave it a 9.2 approval rating.

Will all schools use it the same way?

Under union contract, every teacher must use it for attendance. Many more will use it during class.

How easy is it to use?

Pretty simple. About 4,000 teachers have already received training. Parents can use prompts and help features built into the software, take-home brochures and in-school boot camps.

How much does it cost?

The initial $900,000 price tag is more expensive than the current system but will cost less in time. Right now, the district spends $600,000 a year for five different portals for students, parents, teachers and staff. PCS Portal will cost $250,000 a year to keep going.

How does a student or parent get an account?

Existing ParentConnectxp accounts will be automatically switched over. Anyone with the right to view a student's academic record is eligible for a new account.

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Learn more

• To access PCS Portal, click on the tab at pcsb.org

• More information about the system is at parent.pcsb.org.

Pinellas school portal gets a Facebook feel 08/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 2:37pm]
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