published Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

New Hamilton County school websites boost sharing of information

This is a screen shot from the Hamilton County Schools website of Brown International Academy.
This is a screen shot from the Hamilton County Schools website of Brown International Academy.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    This is a screen shot from the Hamilton County Schools website of Brown Middle School.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The number of emails hitting Jane Reynolds' email inbox has grown exponentially since the addition of a new school website that the Hamilton County Schools system rolled out this fall.

The school sites, along with a new school district main site, are meant to better connect teachers and parents once they're fully integrated.

But already at Brown Middle School, where Reynolds is principal, the new site has opened new lines of communication. Along with announcements, documents and calendar items, the new sites make teacher and administrator contact information easily accessible.

"I'm getting so much more contact from the community, because they can access me through the website," Reynolds said.

The Hamilton County school system overhauled both its main site, www.hcde.org, and the sites for all 77 schools. The district invested about $20,000 to set up the sites and train school leaders on how to use them. Because of a federal technology discount program, the school system will pay about $20,000 annually for hosting fees. Without the grant program, it would cost closer to $70,000, said Patty Kinsey, the county's director of information technology.

"It's a new look for the school system," she said. "And this was something the district could do for the schools, so the expense isn't falling on the schools."

In the past, many schools paid to host their own sites through a third-party vendor to have much control over design and content. But under the new infrastructure, Kinsey said, schools will have more control of their individual sites. All the sites work under a template, though schools can customize what content they post to their sites.

"It's just a lot more user-friendly," she said. "I think the public will like it a lot more."

Some schools will keep their old sites, which will remain accessible through the district's main page.

East Hamilton Middle-High School wanted to keep its already robust website, but officials did like some of the features of the district's new buy, said Michael Stone, a math teacher who oversees the school's extracurricular Web team.

"We kept our old site but just migrated certain features over that we liked," he said.

In particular, East Hamilton integrated the new site's teacher pages, which allow each teacher to upload assignments, documents and other materials to their respective pages. The school's Web page already was heavily used for announcements and calendar items.

"It had pretty high traffic," Stone said. "I would imagine on the new site that's only increased."

The new district-sponsored framework allowed Brown International Academy to dump its old paid site, Principal Jennifer Spates said. She said teachers like the structure of the new websites, which easily allow them to post items at will.

"We're loving it," she said. "It was so simple even for a digital immigrant like myself."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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