Before iParent, Garrett Jarnagin might have been able to skip a few class assignments and breathe easy about his grades until report card time.
The Hephzibah Middle School eighth-grader now knows his grades, class assignments and homework can be accessed by his mother with a few clicks.
"At that age, they don't report to you as much what they're doing," said his mom, Kim Jarnagin. "This keeps them in check. They know they better do their best because Mom is going to check it."
For the past three years, Jarnagin has faithfully used iParent, a program that allows Richmond County parents to log into a secure website to review test scores, class assignments and attendance. Though the program has been helpful, with more than 6,200 parents actively using it, school officials and parents agree the system needs updates.
"I'd like to get a more detailed list of their assignments, and I'd like to be able to do that without having to go to two or three different places," Jarnagin said.
Last week, the Richmond County school board's finance committee approved purchasing a new software program, Global Scholar, that will offer more interactive opportunities and make accessing student information more user-friendly, Internet Technology Director Robert Jankus said.
The final vote on the software will take place during the April 20 board meeting.
Penny-tax funds will help cover $1.3 million of the $1.8 million information system. The tax funds will distribute $450,000 a year for three years toward the purchase of Global Scholar.
Parents will be able to get text message and e-mail notifications on their children's attendance. Grades, testing assignments and student assessments will be under one centralized program.
"The parent portal will be much more powerful," Jankus said. "It will make it easier for teachers to put in the information and easier for the parents to access it."
The difficulty of using iParent has likely led to usage growing more slowly than school officials planned, board member Alex Howard said.
His children attend Lake Forest Hills Elementary and Davidson Fine Arts Magnet schools, and he has used the program to access their grades and assignments.
"IParent is very outdated, and it's very hard for parents to get around the site," he said. "You have to go through a third party if you forget your password. I think that has something to do with the number of our users."
Global Scholar will allow parents to create their own accounts and retrieve their passwords through e-mail if they forget them, Jankus said.
The technology staff will begin working on the program in the summer, and parents could begin using the new program by spring 2011.
Though the new program will be user-friendly, the school system will still have the obstacle of getting parents who do not have Internet at home involved, Howard said.
The board has discussed creating a partnership with the East Central Georgia Regional Library that would encourage those parents to use the library to access their students' information.
"We have a low-income school district, so we have to consider these other elements," Howard said. "We have to do a better job at getting the message out there and showing parents and grandparents how important it is to be involved."
Hephzibah Middle has opened a parent lab this school year for parents who lack Internet access or want the option of checking the information at their children's schools, Principal Wade White said.
"We have a lot of parents signed up, and we don't want Internet access to be the issue," he said. "If they can't meet with a teacher, this is instant access to most everything they would want to know."