Some Fort Worth students' class schedules still in limbo

FORT WORTH -- Student schedules are still being adjusted more than a week into the school year as the Fort Worth district implements new software.

Tracey Wolfskill said that her son, a senior at Southwest High School, still isn't in an English class but that the teacher is making sure he doesn't miss any work.

"It's very scary that it's not done yet when I'm looking at applying to colleges for him soon and he needs this class," Wolfskill said. "It's frustrating all around -- for the students, the parents, the teachers, the administrators."

The district recently launched a $4.9 million software called Connects to manage scheduling, attendance and grading.

District officials said that they did not know how many students were having problems but that most schedules were corrected by the end of last week.

Robert Ray, chief of schools, said the number of schedule changes is typical. But, he explained, they are taking longer to address this year because staff members are not as familiar with the new program.

"When there's a major implementation, there's always going to be hiccups," Ray said. "It's a great new system that is taking just a little longer, but not in a way that puts our students' education in peril."

Chief Academic Officer Michael Sorum said schools typically take about a week or two to level out classes because of unexpected staffing changes, schedule errors or other issues. Sorum said teachers work with students who start a class late.

"Our teachers want the kids to be successful," he said.

The district started working on the software in October, said Kyle Davie, chief technology officer. Schedule work began in the spring, including training for counselors and campus administrators. The system will eventually include a portal allowing parents to see their children's daily grades, homework assignments, attendance and other information.

Parent Paula Batts said her eighth-grade son was supposed to be in a choir class at Como Montessori but was still in band as of Tuesday morning.

But Batts said she understands that any new technology has an adjustment period.

"In the end, it's all going to be such an incredible tool for parents to be able to be involved," she said.

Teachers, however, are nervous about using the system for daily attendance and grades, said Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, which represents area school employees.

"This could be a good program, but ... teachers are scared," Shaw said. "They don't know this program. But they do know how it worked with payroll and scheduling, and it was a disaster."

Shaw referred to software glitches and human error last school year that caused the district to overpay employees and former employees nearly $1.5 million.

He said teachers need more training.

The district bought Connects from the same company that provided the payroll software. However, internal auditors found that the payroll problems stemmed, in part, from lack of proper training and procedures on the district's part.

Davie said the district trained about 3,000 of nearly 5,000 teachers this summer. The new program was also used in summer school as a test run, he said.

Teachers will be allowed to keep paper records of attendance and grades for the next few weeks as the district works on more training opportunities, Davie said.

"We want to get people at ease with the new system," he said.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700