From tests to textbooks, Washtenaw County's schools move toward going paperless
The days of No. 2 pencils, the hum of the school office copy machine and heavy books jammed into backpacks are waning.
Washtenaw County schools are moving into the digital age, leaving paper and pencil and the 20th century behind.
Textbooks have given way to laptop computers, boards of education are going paperless, districts are administering paperless tests and report cards appear on-line rather than in thin envelopes. Weekly packets sent home to parents are often empty. And alerts about school issues -- from head lice to stranger danger -- are being fanned out over the Internet.
But school districts -- even schools within the same district -- are moving at different speeds toward a paperless operation.
Joseph Tobianski I AnnArbor.com
Textbooks, on average, cost $120 a piece and each student would need six of them, Hudson said. The netbooks cost between $350 and $400 each, Hudson said, plus the cost of online access to the textbook material. There is a classroom set of each textbook.
There are other benefits beside financial, he said. A paperless school is more environmentally friendly and it’s easier for students. “They can’t lose their homework or leave it at home,” Hudson said.
All assignments and homework at Arbor Preparatory are paperless, with staff using Moodle, the software platform where teachers can manage assignments, discussion, the school calendar, grading and more on-line. Most correspondence with parents is done on-line, Hudson said.
The school has only one copy machine, and Hudson would like to see that used even less. He wants to move toward on-line test taking, but first security issues must be addressed, he said.
In the Ann Arbor School District, some schools are going paperless quicker than others, but all of them are moving in that direction, said Liz Margolis, director of communications.
Wines Elementary School has been nearly paperless since last school year, said Principal David DeYoung. “It’s more efficient, it’s more a 21st century way of doing things.”
And it fosters communication. Instead of sending an occasional note home to families, DeYoung now sends a weekly email.
And it saves money. Wines saved more than $5,000 in paper costs in just one year.
Teachers are sending classroom newsletters home and confirm appointments with parents via the computer. The school’s monthly newsletter, which used more 4,000 sheets of paper every school year, is now sent electronically.
There are district-wide efforts, Margolis said. The district’s back-to-school book, which historically was mailed to 16,000 families, this year for the first time was sent electronically, Margolis said.
Community, Huron and Ann Arbor Technological high schools’ back-to-school books were also sent over the Internet, while Pioneer and Skyline will follow suit next year. The district saved about $5,000 with the paperless back-to-school books, Margolis said. Families without Internet access receive paper copies.
PowerSchool is the district’s data system, used by parents and students to check grades and assignments and to take attendance. Instead of mailing home quarterly reports, grades are now accessed on the Internet. The annual cost of PowerSchool is $77,000.
Schoolmessenger is the communication tool the district uses to send notes home to families. “It eliminate the need for a hard copy fan out,” Margolis said.
When there was a potential stalker near Burns Park School recently, an email was sent instead of stuffing backpacks with paper fliers. Notices about MEAP testing, school picture day or the balance on a student lunch account are sent electronically.
Test taking is also going green. There were no bubbles to fill in when elementary students took the new MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test this fall. It was all done on computer.
The Ann Arbor Board of Education may be going paperless soon.
The board is considering paperless board packets through BoardDocs, an Internet solution that allows board agendas, backup materials, real-time voting and minutes to be posted on the Internet. It adds transparency, said Trustee Andy Thomas, because the public would be able to easily access the information.
Going paperless doesn’t always save money. BoardDocs would end up costing the district roughly $4,000 a year more, said Amy Osinski, executive assistant. It costs about $5,000 a year to produce and deliver the board packets, while BoardDocs would cost $9,000. The board is expected to BoardDocs at its Nov. 16 meeting.
Nationwide, schools are moving toward being green. Schools are joining the e-book bandwagon, said Marlene Nesary, International Society for Technology in Education, but progress hinges on state laws that allow -- or prohibit -- districts from using funds from textbook budgets on technology. Texas, for example, allows flexibility, she said.