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Fort Worth district switching student information systems

03/12/2013 10:39 PM

03/14/2013 3:22 PM

FORT WORTH -- The Fort Worth school district is converting to a new student information system, a massive undertaking that will require teachers, administrators and other staff members to get in-depth training before it launches in August.

The Focus School Software system replaces the Connects data records system. When Connects went into operation in 2010, staff members complained that it produced inaccurate transcripts, incomplete grade reports and incorrect attendance records.

The student information system is essential to the education system and helps the district function smoothly day to day, officials said.

It contains student record databases and is used to manage functions such as class scheduling, student immunization and health records, and a grade book system for parents and students to track academic progress.

The new software is more intuitive and easy to use, said Marcia Formby, a project team manager.

"From an educational perspective, it is user friendly. It's visually more accessible," Formby said. "It's quicker. Focus has been able to pull up a report in seconds instead of waiting for minutes."

On the Focus system, users can perform more complex searches using a drag-and-drop feature that is quicker and more accurate.

Office workers can search the system for student names much faster, cutting the search time down from minutes to seconds.

For teachers, the grade book function has fewer steps for entering data, Formby said.

The Focus system will cost about $3 million over five years. The district bought Connects for $4.9 million from Tyler Technologies.

District officials are already using the Focus system to develop next year's student schedules. Training for central office and campus staff will continue through the summer, Formby said.

Some employees at six campuses are piloting the new software and will begin using it this month for enrollment and attendance, running both systems concurrently.

In April, they will start using the new system for discipline and grade books, Formby said.

An employee committee recommended Focus after spending months looking at systems. Trustees approved the purchase in December.

Last month, three trustees and other district officials visited Pinellas County Schools, based in Largo, Fla., to talk with educators about their experience with the software.

"I felt 90 percent better after we took the trip. ... It was just us talking to the people using the system," said Carlos Vasquez, a trustee who has been a vocal critic of Connects.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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