BEAUFORT — As a new school year begins, so does a new state technology support system for students, teachers and parents.
It’s one of two major technology initiatives taking place in 2013-14, with the other the arrival of about 1,600 Google Chromebooks later this fall that will be used by students.
The $26 million Home Base system replaces the NCWise system that had been used by Carteret County and about 30 other school districts across the state. Other districts used additional systems.
Mat Bottoms, assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction for the Carteret County school system, said the State Department of Public Instruction wanted a common system all school districts could use.
“Under the old system there were a lot of different softwares that didn’t talk to each other. This system links all of our data together,” said Mr. Bottoms.
Components of the Home Base system will be gradually implemented this year.
Teachers, under a program called Power Teacher, are currently using it to take class attendance, for student grades and for class scheduling. While glitches have been reported across the state, Mr. Bottoms said it has run relatively smooth for Carteret County.
“It’s a new system and we expect some glitches in the beginning. We had workshops over the summer to prepare for the change,” he said.
Home Base will eventually allow parents to check their children’s attendance, class work and grades from any computer, tablet or smartphone. They will be able to sync assignments with their personal calendars to keep up with deadlines.
If a child is struggling in a subject, parents will be able to communicate privately with their teacher.
Students, under a system known as Power School, will also be able to check their assignments and have online chats with teachers and classmates.
In addition to tracking student attendance and grades, Home Base will allow teachers to see how their students compare with others in a particular school or across a district. Teachers also can use the system to plan lessons and design tests. They will be able to share those lesson plans with other teachers across the state, which is something Morehead City Primary School first grade teacher Debbie Gillikin said she likes.
“When it all gets up and going it will be fabulous,” she said Thursday as she checked class attendance on the system. “Sharing lesson plans and ideas with teachers in the mountains will be wonderful. You might try something on a particular topic that doesn’t work with your students. But someone else may have an idea that does work.”
For teachers, the system also offers professional development tools and evaluation feedback.
As schools roll out components of Home Base this year, they will notify parents how to access it. The system won’t be fully implemented in elementary schools until the 2014-15 school year.
A federal Race to the Top grant, which is federal money allocated to each state to assist with educational needs, paid for a large portion of the cost for the Home Base system, with the state kicking in about $2.5 million.
The system will cost the state about $21.4 million a year to operate, and DPI officials said school districts will have to pay $4 per student next year if they want to use optional components, such as teacher development tools and student performance comparisons. The state will continue to provide the parent portal and other required portions to districts free of charge.
The Home Base implementation is one of two major technology initiatives that will be seen in county schools for 2013-14.
Many students will begin using Google Chromebooks to complete a portion of their classroom assignments this year. The school system, in partnership with the Carteret County Board of Commissioners, is in the process of purchasing about 1,600 Google Chromebooks, which are personal computers running the Google Chrome OS operating system.
County commissioners approved a $450,000 capital allotment to purchase technology equipment this fiscal year. Todd Williamson, director of technology for the school system, said about $380,000 of that money is being combined with $350,000 in Race to the Top funds.
Mr. Williamson said the county is preparing to send out requests for proposals to vendors, and he hopes bids will be awarded by the county commissioners at their October meeting.
Once bids are awarded, Mr. Williamson said Chromebooks should be in the hands of students sometime in November.
Mr. Williamson said teachers were invited to present proposals on how computers will be used in their classrooms. The most creative proposals are being chosen this year for the first wave of computers.
The purchase of the computers is the first year of a three-year initiative to provide a computer for every student in grades four through 12. Mr. Williamson said lower grades would use some as well, but would also use laptops, iPads and other devices.
In addition, Mr. Bottoms said high school and middle school students would continue to be allowed to bring their own devices, and many do.
Mr. Bottoms added that all school districts are moving toward providing computer access for all students because the state DPI has targeted the 2014-15 school year as the year that all state testing will be done online.
Croatan High School English teacher Brad Robinson is among teachers who submitted a proposal for Chromebooks. He currently uses the school’s laptops, and many of his students already bring their own personal devices such as laptops, tablets and iPads. He also incorporates the use of smartphones on some assignments.
“I would love to have them (Chromebooks). In our lives, we use technology spontaneously for research and to answer questions. Now, if we’re discussing an issue or a student has a question, I need to get a laptop cart and it can take 15 minutes to log on. If the students had Chromebooks, they could quickly log on and find the answer.”
Mr. Robinson said he is currently piloting an online vocabulary curriculum that creates individual lesson plans for each student based on their vocabulary level. He foresees more of these types of activities as access to technology increases.
Croatan High School junior Angela Ray agreed providing Chromebooks for students is a good idea. She is among 120 students at the school taking classes through the N.C. Virtual Public School in addition to her regular coursework. The VPS allows students to take high school or college level courses online for credit.
“I think it’s costly, but it’s a good idea because not every student has access online at home,” she said.
Ms. Ray also liked the idea of increased online interaction with her instructors and grade information through Homebase. She said students already get class assignments online and communicate via email with many instructors.
With the increase of online interaction between teachers and students comes the need for new policies to outline appropriate behavior.
One such policy, employee use of social media, is set to be approved by the County Board of Education Tuesday. That policy addresses the use of: personal websites, blogs, wikis, social network sites, online forums, virtual worlds, video-sharing websites and other social media.
The policy basically states that employees are to maintain professional relationships with students at all times in accordance with policy.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.