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Archive for Monday, March 10, 2014

New websites coming to Lawrence schools

March 10, 2014

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Education news
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Contact Journal-World education reporter Elliot Hughes: ehughes@ljworld.com

The Lawrence school district will soon scrap its current website and replace it with a new, more interactive system that will enable students and their parents to keep better track of their schedules, and allow more two-way communication between the district and its patrons.

The Lawrence school board accepted a staff proposal Monday night to hire Schoolwires, Inc., based in State College, Pa., to build the new site. The company currently works with about 16,000 school districts around the country, including the Salina school district in Kansas.

Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent for educational technology programs, said she expects the new site will be ready to launch by July 1. It will replace the existing website, which some district officials say is hard to use and often so slow to respond.

Officials said it will manage the district's website as well as those of each school. The site will have more interactive features than the existing one, like allowing parents to set up customized "dashboards" to keep track of their students schedules and activities.

It will also provide mobile applications, making the site easier to use with smart phones, tablets and other kinds of mobile devices, officials said.

"We want that site to be responsive to the end-user device," said IT director Melinda Stanley. "Schoolwires has a responsive site, which means that no matter what type of device you are using, the website will automatically redesign for you and it will optimize for your device."

That move comes at the same time the district is gradually shifting to a "blended learning" model of instruction in which teachers make greater use of online tools to organize their classes, and students log into web-based portals to find their reading materials, classroom assignments and quizzes. Students also use the portals to communicate with their teachers inside and outside the classroom.

Also Monday, the board agreed to contract with KanREN — the Kansas Research and Education Network — to serve as the district's Internet provider. KanREN will provide a 420-megabyte connection for a net cost to the district of $23,831. That contract will also use about $35,000 in federal E-rate subsidies.

In other business, the board:

• Accepted a proposal to expand the AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — program to middle schools next year. The program works primarily with students who score in the "academic middle" to help them move into more advanced courses and prepare for college. The program currently operates in both high schools, and the expansion is expected to cost an additional $96,000 the first year and about $74,000 per year after that.

• Delayed consideration of a proposed "Turf, Tree and Landscape Plan" setting out standards and practices for managing the district's estimated 135 acres of lawns. Board members asked maintenance officials to work more closely with site councils and neighborhoods to address concerns about the use of fertilizers and herbicides.

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