Bethlehem Central School District (BCSD) is located in Delmar, three miles southwest of Albany and 150 miles north of New York City. The district serves 4,700 students in five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Bethlehem’s schools are consistently among the top-performing schools in the Capital Region and across the state of New York.
When BCSD embarked on its search for a new student information system (SIS) in 2013, it listed several key goals. According to Dr. Sal DeAngelo, the district’s chief technology officer, the district’s desire to enhance and improve the ways the district communicates with parents was near the top.
During the district’s search for a new SIS, Follett Aspen™ quickly emerged as the clear choice among other vendors. “We were looking for best of breed, and saw that Aspen would give us the next generation of SIS.”
DeAngelo didn’t wait long before he actively engaged all district audiences with the new SIS, including the district’s parent base. All parents were sent their own personal log-ins. Then the district’s technology department hosted Aspen parent information sessions, at which technology staff and parent volunteers provided hands-on assistance and answered questions about Aspen.
“We didn’t leave any ambiguity as to where parents should go for information,” says DeAngelo, “We wanted to ‘walk the talk’ with our new portal.”
DeAngelo said the beauty of the SIS is that BCSD can individualize communication to parents and students. Among the information the district supplies via its SIS includes:
In addition, DeAngelo stressed the district no longer has to mail out Individual Student Reports (ISRs) with results from the New York State Testing Program’s grade 3-8 assessment testing. Previously, he said BCSD had to print out 2,300 reports and envelopes to match, and staff had to complete a timeconsuming and labor-intensive mailing. In addition, the district is analyzing how it can use Aspen to deliver all other assessment reports that parents have traditionally received by mail.
“This is another example of how we’re saving money and being able to devote staff time to other important projects,” notes DeAngelo.
Many of the district’s teachers have seized the opportunity to use the SIS to share with students (and parents) key course information, such as study guides, class documents, assignments, homework, scheduled assessments and class updates. Significantly, the Aspen system has been configured to ensure each child’s information is confidential and can only be retrieved by parents and/or guardians, as well as authorized school personnel.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished with our enhanced communication efforts. In fact, communication has improved between teachers and parents, teachers and students, and it’s helping at home with parents and their children,” says DeAngelo. As both Principal of Bethlehem Middle School and district parent, Mike Klugman has witnessed Aspen’s benefits through different prisms.
“The most important thing about Aspen is that it gives transparency for the parents since the portal works to engender student responsibility,” says Klugman, “Often, adults believe students will become more dependent with an electronic portal but the reverse is true. Students’ organization and responsibility about tracking their assignments improves with Aspen.
“From a teacher’s perspective, I can tell you the teachers who are taking full advantage of Aspen and sending a lot of communication – providing grades online, class material, etc. – are receiving very little friction from parents or students,” adds Klugman, also a former teacher.
The culmination of this hard work has led to Bethlehem Central School District being named by Follett as an “Aspen District of the Year Award” for 2015. The district was presented the honor at Follett’s annual Aspen Institute. BCSD earned the award based on implementation of its new SIS, including the design of the implementation, best practices for training and communication, and how its work could benefit other districts.
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