Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during the Chicago Board of Education monthly meeting at CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison St., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

CPS delays huge rollout of new online student, parent portal

SHARE CPS delays huge rollout of new online student, parent portal
SHARE CPS delays huge rollout of new online student, parent portal

Chicago Public Schools announced Wednesday it will delay the rollout of its new online parent portal and student information system until April to give parents, teachers and school staff more time to understand how to use it.

The move comes as a union official criticized the district as “disrespectful” for rushing the implementation of such a massive computer system in the middle of the school year. The system will replace ones used by hundreds of thousands of students, parents and staff every day.

Aspen, an information system developed by education services firm, Follett, was to go live across the district on Jan. 7, the first day of school after winter break. The new system will now instead be implementedon April 22, the day students and staff return from spring break.

In letters sent Wednesday to staff and parents, CPS chief executive Janice Jackson said her decision to push back the start date came out of concern many parents and schools were not prepared to properly use the new system in two weeks.

“While the feedback we’ve received from schools on the features and ease-of-use of Aspen has been overwhelmingly positive, our readiness metrics tell us that our schools need more time to engage with the system before it goes live,” she wrote.

Jackson went on to say the extra time will give the Aspen project team a chance to “provide further support to our change champion network and school staff,” including “targeted training to those who oversee school-based behavioral processes” and who train parents in using Parent Portal, a system in which parents can track students’ school progress online.

A spokesperson for Follett declined to comment.

Aspen will replace a slew of online information systems currently employed by CPS, including Gradebook, SIM, SIM Evening School, SIM Summer School, Parent/Student Portals, Verify and CIM.

According to CPS, the move to Aspen will save the district money as its current information systems are “four different products with four different contracts and three different vendors ….Moving to just one system with one contract will save the district a significant amount of money over the full-term of the contract.”

The district gave all CPS teachers and school staff two months to learn how to work Aspen. At the December CPS board meeting, officials said the districtheld 74 training sessions at seven schools across the city starting Sept. 25, reaching 1,252 teachers and school staff. Staff leaders were paid a $1,500 stipend.A toolkit for teachers and school staff was also made available online in September which included training videos and visual guides on how to use Aspen.Officials said two-thirds of all school-based users had logged into Aspen’s training portal, known as “The Sandbox.”But according to Jennifer Johnson, chief of staff of the Chicago Teachers Union, many educators were under duress trying to adapt to the new information system during the middle of the hectic school year. The union advocated CPS in recent weeks to delay the start-date for Aspen to give teachers time to catch up.

“Rolling out a massive shift in technology in the middle of the year is disrespectful to classroom educators. The shift is happening way too quickly to be manageable and educators need time to adjust,” she said.

At the December board meeting, CPS officials said the timing for the system switch-up during the middle of the year was to avoid headaches during the first day, one of the busiest days of the year.

The Aspen delay is only the latest tech-induced headache CPS has dealt with this year.

In June, the district sent a mass email with a link to the private data of 3,700 students, including the student’s name, their parents’ contact information, and their CPS student ID number. It took the district several hours to lockdown the unsecured file.And last month, a CPS employee stole a database containing private information of about 80,000 CPS personnel after she was fired.In an email, Follett vice president of communications Tom Kline said all CPS data on its servers is encrypted and will be kept under tight guard.“Aspen incorporates best-practice security protocols, including periodic independent security audits and tests,” he wrote. “The system is protected by two firewalls with access determined by CPS staff. The CPS implementation is in its own secure gated rack enclosure. This rack is locked and access is highly restricted.”

Kline also said Follett support staff will be at the ready when CPS launches the system in April.“On day 1, Follett’s Technical Support team will be onsite at CPS to expedite and resolve any issues found, or provide other assistance as needed, during the rollout.”CPS has more than 360,000 students andemploysmore than 36,000 people, including nearly 21,000 teachers.Follett said its software supports 2.3 million students in 17 states.

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