APS approves purchase of new technology

ALPENA – Alpena Public Schools Board of Education approved the purchase of a new student information system, Synergy, costing $180,175.80 over a five-year period. The total cost for the new SIS is $257,394, with that cost being split between Alcona, Alpena, Hillman schools, and the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District based on district enrollment plus 1 percent from each partner for server maintenance.

A group of administrators and teachers have been reviewing different programs since the announcement in May that the district’s current SIS, Pinnacle, would be stopping support of its SIS product in June 2014. The group narrowed down a field of seven possible systems to two, and invited those vendors to present in-depth demonstrations of their software, eventually deciding Synergy was the best for the districts.

“It really has the best mix of features for the grade book, and provides us with good access to our data,” Hans Stevens, director of elementary instruction and district technology, said. “It really rated high among teachers as something that was easy to use, friendly to navigate, powerful, and this is a mature stable product that’s not going to go anywhere.”

Another plus to going with Synergy for the SIS is the location and current relationship of the support system for the software with APS.

“We know the company that provides support for Michigan users, and they’re fantastic,” Stevens said. “We worked with them in the past on a previous system we had years ago, and they’re not too far away, just Saginaw. We don’t have to call across the country to get ahold of somebody when we need help. Good support, good grade book, and the parents are going to like it too.”

Stevens said the SIS and grade book are everyday programs used by teachers, parents and administration, and the information system is critical to the function of the schools.

“Teachers are in it 20 times a day and secretaries look at it all day long. It’s like email. You’ve got to have it up.. It has to be up and running and easy to use,” Stevens said. “This is that critical.”

The districts will be running both programs in parallel for the rest of the school year, getting information into the new system from the old one and beginning to configure the Synergy system to allow the schools to do scheduling, which is one of the big pieces of a student information system.

The money to pay for the new SIS will come from money in the budget, and will have to be added in the budget for the deficit elimination plan once amended in the school budget.

“The issue is just that we have to replace what we have because what we have will be no more,” Superintendent Brent Holcomb said. “It has become ingrained for online grade book for parents and is a communication tool. The other aspect of it is we can’t file any state reports unless we have an online system. Everything in this day and age is electronic.”

In other business:

there were around 4,200 in attendance for the back-to-school event at the Alpena Mall.

Eric Cardwell, principal of Besser Elementary and Zone 6 director for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, updated the board on his attendance at national meetings and what he is bringing back from those meeting to further improve Alpena Public Schools.

Lee Fitzpatrick and Meaghan Black told the board about a plan grant through Alpena College Access Network.

Eric Magness-Eubank told the board about some of the effects of the proposed library millage and how its positive or negative vote could effect the schools and students.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.