Going Green in the Great Neck Public Schools: Online-Only Report Cards & Other Initiatives

by Marc Epstein, District Technology Director

Usually, March 17 is the one day when everyone goes green. This year, however, green is the favorite color of the Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) every single day. The School District is excited about its "Great Neck Is Going Green" initiative that transcends many traditional practices and spans the entire school system. The goal is to improve communication while saving money and reducing the carbon footprint.

"Today's budget challenges require us to think differently about our day-to-day procedures and to look for ways to streamline services, improve communications, be more environmentally friendly, and reduce costs," said Thomas Dolan, Superintendent of Schools. To rise to Dr. Dolan's challenge, we expect that printed mailings and backpack notices from the central office and from the schools will be reduced significantly as we leverage the GNPS Web site and two Web-based parent-communication systems--Infinite Campus Parent Portal and ParentLink Notification System--to communicate electronically with households in our community. The GNPS Web site has been a source of District information since 1998, Parent Portal has been available since 2007, and ParentLink has been used since 2008. We are now relying on these systems more exclusively for our communications.

The most visible symbol of the "Going Green" initiative is the transition away from mailing progress reports and report cards home to parents. Beginning with the second marking period, parents will access these documents online only via the Campus Parent Portal. Parent Portal is a secure Web site where parents can also get attendance information, schedules, NYS assessment results, and immunization records for their children.

The District has been communicating instructions for this change to parents in many ways. For the electronic-communication transition to be successful, parents will need a computing device with Internet access. Contact information, particularly e-mail addresses, must be kept up to date. Parents must also have established accounts and know their user names and passwords. Those without Internet access at home may access these Web-based systems without charge at the Great Neck Public Library, at work (if allowed by their employer), at a friend, relative, or neighbor's house, or via cell phone (if Internet-enabled). For parents without access, special accommodations are available at each school.

Beyond online progress reports and report cards, the District is employing the ParentLink Notification System, along with the GNPS Web site, to reduce the cost of paper, toner, labor, envelopes, and postage. Individual school Web sites are being redesigned and expanded to include areas devoted to documents (newsletters, flyers, and permission slips) that can be accessed electronically, rather than printed and backpacked or mailed home. ParentLink is a powerful and useful tool that alerts staff and parents by phone in the event of an emergency, delayed opening, early dismissal, or school cancellation. It replaces the old telephone chains and allows the District to reach thousands of staff and parents within a few minutes.

During the 2010-2011 school year, use of ParentLink is being expanded to automate attendance calls when children are absent (this was piloted in several of our schools last year). New this year is the use of ParentLink by individual schools to e-mail parents with routine but important school information. Many of the schools are sending weekly ParentLink e-mails with reminders about school events and notices that are posted on school Web sites. Parents can log into ParentLink to view past messages from the School District and to update their own contact information, including work phone, cell phone, e-mail address, text-message address, and unlimited emergency contacts.

The School District's coordinated effort to "Go Green" will save taxpayer dollars, improve efficiency, help the environment, and ensure that parents receive timely information from a variety of communication methods. This will strengthen the home-school connection and benefit the education of all students. If we keep this up, the "G" in "GNPS" may soon stand for "Green" as well as "Great."