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The Birmingham News
June 9, 2009

Shelby schools tops in online data

The Shelby County school system leads the state’s 132 public school districts in keeping students, parents, employees and other stakeholders informed online, according to a review of Web sites being published today by a new group formed to shed light on public school systems statewide.

The report is an unscientific but useful inventory of key information available to the public online at the state’s 67 county school systems and 65 city districts, said Trisha Crain of Hoover. Crain, a mother of three, conducted the review for the Alabama School Community Information Network, which formed earlier this year and maintains a Web site at www.ascin.org.

Crain and some assistants evaluated each school system’s Web site using a checklist of 34 types of information ranging from basic phone numbers or 3-mail addresses to daily lunch menus, academic rankings and complex financial data, including audits, school-by-school expenditures and archived financial statements.

Shelby County schools, at www.shelbyed.k12.al.us, had 27 of the 34 items, followed by Madison city schools, with 24, according ASCIN’s report. Blount, Mobile and Montgomery counties tied in third place with 22; Elmore County, Hoover and Florence tied for sixth with 21, while Huntsville city schools and Baldwin, Calhoun and Morgan county systems each had 20.

All but one Alabama school system, Wilcox County, had a Web presence.

"I’ve been aware of how great Shelby County’s Web site is for a long time," said Crain, who began her search to find an ideal district Web site for the Hoover system to emulate.

Crain, who has a son at Hoover High School and two children in private schools, launched a Web site similar to ASCIN’s site in 2006 as an information source for Hoover parents. She said the Hoover system’s Web site has improved tremendously in the last few years.

She plans to share ASCIN’s report with State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton and the state Board of Education.

"I’ll give them the link and say, ‘This is really great news. I’m excited with how much information they (the state’s school systems) already have online," Crain said.

She cautioned that Web sites are constantly being updated, and despite digging through each site, Crain said she likely missed information that wasn’t easy to find or clearly labeled.

Such is the case with the first-place Shelby County system. Four of seven pieces of information listed as missing are actually available on the site, including lunch cost, free and reduced-price lunch information, the fiscal 2009 budget and financial expenditures by school.

Dee Patterson, the Shelby County system’s Web content manager, said school lunch information is listed under "Child Nutrition," and the federal reduced-price meal program is found at the link, "Meal Benefits." The budget and expense breakdown by school are on the Finance page, three clicks from the home page under "Financial Reports, Documents & Forms."

However, the schools are listed as "cost centers," and some of these terms could be confusing, Patterson said.

Shelby schools’ technology coordinator, Susan Poling, said the system, which serves more than 27,000 students, has 766 Web pages and associated documents on its site. If information was hard to find, that should be fixed, she said.

Crain said she was glad to see the site "rack up even more points" and expected to see improvements on all the school sites when she does a follow-up in September.

For more information, visit the Alabama School Community Information Network’s Web site at www.ascin.org.


 

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