School Choice Technology FAIL!

In case you are not familiar with the School Choice operations for DeKalb County Schools, there is an enrollment period every year in February, followed by a lottery in March or April.   Parents who wish to apply for a spot for their child at a school – theme, magnet, charter, Montessori, etc. –  for the following school year are required to sign up for the lottery.

“This year, the School Choice enrollment period opened on Monday, February 2, 2015 for paper applications, only.  Online applications were to be accepted beginning Monday, February 9, 2015.  I and many other proactive parents tried to use ePortal, the existing lottery registration program, to get their students ‘set up’ in the system, so that on February 9, they could complete the online application. This was the process in previous years and worked when I did it for my older student.

“However, this year ePortal gave only a vague error message informing users that their account did not have the authority to add students.  When I called the School Choice office to follow up, I was told that this message was due to the fact that ePortal was offline until February 9, the start of the lottery program, but that I would be able to enter the information and enroll my student starting on the 9th. At no point was there any mention of a change in technology.

“Now (Monday, February 9) we learn that DeKalb is implementing a NEW system for online enrollment.  However, there is NO new system available, NO information on what the system is, and NO information about whether it will be available for the lottery.    The only information provided is a PDF with multiple phone numbers.  When calling the listed numbers, there is NO human being to answer, the messages at the numbers are different and conflicting, and there is no way to leave a voicemail. (Read the PDF at “Parent Technical Support” here http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice.)

“This is a tremendous failure in so many ways – once again, parents are given every reason to be suspicious of the competence and intentions of DeKalb County Schools staff.  I have 15 years of experience in IT, and it boggles the mind to consider how a system change-over would be 1) implemented at the same time as the system is expected to be available; 2) not communicated to any end-users beforehand; and 3) not working on go-live.  Indeed, the lack of communication from the DCS Central Office extends to the schools themselves, which have been inundated with calls by parents and which were as surprised as the parents to learn that a new system was going to be used (and for which they had no information).

“I have called all available numbers for Pat Copeland’s office in School Choice, as well as the numbers listed on the PDF file.  Nowhere can I find any instructions for how to proceed other than to come in person to the tech lab in Lawrenceville and dire warnings that anyone who fails to register will not be in the lottery.  I have zero confidence in filling out any paper forms and leaving them at the county office – though in the end, inclusion in the lottery whether by paper or online seems to be completely unassured at this point.

“It is this sort of preventable fiasco that causes parents and taxpayers to completely distrust the competence, intentions and work of DeKalb County Schools employees and degrades our trust in the system overall.”

+++

The Superintendent released a statement saying,

“As a result of the new online ePortal application integration with Infinite Campus, we are experiencing issues that are typical when we have a high volume of applicants accessing the system simultaneously. In preparation for the implementation of the new software, we have incorporated the following to assist our parents:

• Parent Technical Support Center that is available daily from 8:30 AM
to 7:00 PM EST.
• The Support Center is open with 10 phones lines to address any
parent concerns.
• The contact information for the Parent Technical Support Center is
posted on the website: http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice and
on the ePortal.”

+++

Maureen Downey at the AJC Get Schooled blog has posted an opinion on this issue >>
Registering for Kittredge lottery. There has to be a better way and Thurmond ought to find it.

+++

The article above was sent by a parent to Stan Jester, School Board District 1 Rep. He shared it on the Fact Checker.

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23 Responses to School Choice Technology FAIL!

  1. Howdy June from the AJC says:

    This is but another symptom that the Dekalb County School System is badly broken. Just this past week, the DCSS was ordered to return $2.1 Million by the State Department of Education because the DCSS cannot figure out how it spent those funds. Despite the fact that the DCSS imposes the highest millage rate on its residents in the State of Georgia and has one of the wealthiest populations in the State, it is managed so poorly that it continues not to make its contributions to the teachers’ retirement “401(k)” program that it agreed with the teachers would replace their Social Security if they (the teachers) would withdraw. The DCSS is now being sued by its own teachers for this failure.

    Now, Michael Thurmond wants to spend another $2.5 Million in legal fees fighting the Druid Hills community. And even the present Dekalb County School System continues to require that the County spend $65,000 per month for lawyers to “train” the school board.

    I could give many more examples such as the one these parent cite in attempting to enroll their child in this magnet program. Rather than simply replacing the school board, the State of Georgia ought to simply take over the governance and administration of the DCSS, appoint a board that doesn’t considered race but focuses on proven managerial experience, and move dramatically to clean out and clean up the administration. No wonder so many communities within Dekalb want to form their own cities and find ways to leave the DCSS.

  2. According to Maureen Downey at the AJC >>

    DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond issued this statement in response to online registration problems:

    On behalf of the DeKalb County School District, I apologize for any inconvenience or delay experienced by parents attempting to utilize our online school choice application process.

    During the first day of registration, yesterday, we experienced a significant increase in choice applications.

    Despite technical problems we were able to process more than 500 online applications.This large volume of traffic combined with the integration of a new online choice system caused some delay and confusion for some parents.

    Today, we processed another 700 online applications by 10 a.m.

    The IT Department and the School Choice Office are working around the clock to resolve the issues that have been reported. In response, we have implemented an enhanced technical assistance and support plan.

    We have already put in place the following to assist our parents:

    · A Parent Support Center is staffed with 10 telephone lines including 678.676.0035 and 678.676.0205.

    · The Support Center is available daily from 8:30a.m. to 7:00p.m. Mon.-Fri. and Sat. 9:00a.m.-1:00p.m.

    · Contact information for the Support Center is posted on the District website (http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice) and on the District ePortal.

    We will continue to provide our parents with updates and support on the District website and social media outlets including @DeKalbSchools for Twitter and Instagram and /DeKalbCountySchoolDistrict for Facebook.

    Michael L. Thurmond
    Superintendent
    DeKalb County School District

  3. Insider says:

    “and it boggles the mind to consider how a system change-over would be 1) implemented at the same time as the system is expected to be available; 2) not communicated to any end-users beforehand; and 3) not working on go-live. ”

    As far as #3 is concerned… remember HealthCare.gov?

  4. Frustrated Teacher says:

    This is typical for DeKalb’s IT capabilities. For a school system of this size, the software and hardware is horrible. The computers take 30 min. to an hour to just log on in the mornings to take attendance. This is with brand new computers! Then, to enter simple grades into the Infinite Campus program, it takes about 5 steps. To post grades to report cards it takes about 30 minutes for each subject taught. The software seems like it was written by a freshman in college just learning how to program. I would like to know who is profiting off all of the funds wasted on the horrible IT in DeKalb. Another area that needs a major audit.

  5. Teachers Matter says:

    Should anyone be surprised? Sounds like standard operating procedure for DCSD.

  6. In other technology news from DeKalb >> Gary Brantley, DCSS head of IT was quoted in an online article about the use of technology and security of stored student data >>

    Schools May Put Student Data at Risk
    With fraud and identity theft rising and advertising becoming increasingly targeted, the challenge is to protect student privacy without undermining the educational benefits of 21st-century technology.
    by Ty Tagami

    What about that invitation the daughter of Priscilla Davenport got in the mail last summer?

    “What came to my mind is how did they get her information? How did they even know to send her this letter?” said Davenport, whose daughter is a junior at McNair High School in DeKalb County, Ga. A friend at the school got the same solicitation to join a national student organization. It was based on their academic performances, so Davenport suspects the information slipped from the school. If the group knew about grades, Davenport worried, what else did they know?

    The DeKalb County School District’s technology chief, Gary Brantley, said most of his system’s student data has not been put on outside “cloud” computing networks yet. He said that is likely to change, though, as a generation of technology staffers retires and the district loses the expertise to operate its own computer servers. Also, teachers are signing up students for online programs that are not vetted, he said. There are free offerings for everything from math tutoring to monitoring of classroom misbehavior.

    Brantley said he plans to ask the school board to tighten the policy for teachers. “If we don’t stop it, it’s going to get out of control,” he said. “We really need tighter regulations around it.”

  7. Students get the most mailings from having taken the PSAT. My daughter some how misspelled her first name on the PSAT fill in the blank of your name. She filled in the first letter of her last name followed by her first name. So after a while it was easy to tell where every thing with this crazy spelling came off the PSAT. The made up name also looked like a 14-16 year old African American baby mama had named her that. Not an educated white 30+ yr old upper middle class parents. She got a host of information for Minority scholarships, especially since she had high grades and high PSAT scores. She specifically, received stuff from Minority recruiting offices at Universities, Minority scholarships, Honor society’s for minorities only. It was actually funny because they took the crazy misspelling and assumed she was black. Then she was absolutely not eligible for these scholarships, because you had to be black or Hispanic.

    It is from the school administered PSAT that the students get all the mail and it continues to come, into college years.

  8. FormerDekalbParent says:

    Didn’t the fabulous and wonderful Romona Tyson used to be in charge of all the technology for the county? Before she became the baby Super?

  9. Reposted from the AJC blog >>

    The School Choice Lottery for DeKalb County Schools concerns many more schools than Kittredge. It is true that Kittredge was created as a part of the federally mandated desegregation efforts. [Do keep in mind that all schools in Georgia were segregated by state law before the feds came in and decided to make an example of DeKalb County Schools which had no choice in the matter of segregation.] Kittredge is a school for “high achievers.” To get the proper 50-50 mix of Black to White-and-other, the minimum test scores for admission to Kittredge were 75th percentile. As far as we know that has not changed. In the early years of Kittredge, every elementary school was allowed to send only two students — one Black and one White-and-other (i.e., Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc).

    Kittredge is only one of many School Choice schools in DeKalb County Schools. But “Kittredge” and “lottery” are sure to grab attention and increase readership. If you have read the AJC lately … well … enough said.

    In addition to Kittredge, there are 45 other school choice programs in DeKalb County Schools: There are 12 other magnet programs, most offering an excellent “regular” education along with their so-called magnet programs. There also are 9 International Baccalaureate (IB) programs; 2 regional school choice programs; 7 “theme” schools; 2 schools offering Montessori programs; and 13 charter schools.

    There would be an additional charter high school and 6 other additional charter schools in 2015-2016 if DeKalb County Schools could recognize a well-written, well-researched charter proposal when they see it. Of course, most of the board did not even read the outstanding Druid Hills Charter Cluster proposal and admitted as much.

    For the people who have been questioning the motives of Matt Lewis and the Druid Hills Charter Cluster committee, please remember they did not dream up a Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC). They weren’t trying to create an elite enclave like Arabia Mountain High School. A charter cluster like a charter school takes all comers to the limits of its facilities. The opportunity to form charter clusters composed of a high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools was granted in 2007 through a bill [O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2063] sponsored by former state Senator Dan Weber.

    To determine how much money would be available to educate children in the charter cluster, DHCC used a State Board of Education-mandated spreadsheet with all the formulas already filled in by the Georgia Department of Education. The real problem wasn’t a concern about how the money would be managed to provide needed educational opportunities to all the students in DHCC. The real problem was that Thurmond and his sidekicks did not want to give up control and the power ceded to them by our tax dollars — monies that should be used to educate our children, but aren’t.

    Don’t believe us? The spreadsheet is online. Use it to do a rough estimate of how much money your child(ren)’s school(s) should be receiving. Most of the information you need can be found at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. You’ll be shocked when you compare what the spreadsheet says your child(ren)’s school(s) should be receiving compared to what they are really getting.

  10. Reprinted from the AJC Blog >>

    The message from Thurmond is just baffling to me, because if you walk into the office on Lawrenceville Highway, they are being very open about saying that the eportal registration system DOES NOT WORK, and not to try it at all until next week. And they will tell you that while you can submit a paper form, if you do, you will not be able to track your child’s progress in the lottery (the woman in charge was openly saying that while you could do what you wanted, if it was her child, she would wait for e-portal to work.) But that they have no idea when the e-portal will be repaired.

    Additionally, the school choice website (not the e-portal, or infinite campus – just the DeKalb informational website that does not allow or require log-in) now has a public message under the parent technical support link that says: “Your application has been processed! The application will be reviewed and the status updated.
    You will be contacted after February 27th if additional information is required.” WHAT? I can imagine someone less technically inclined could read that and misunderstand, and miss the cut off. http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/school-choice/

    I have two children who are new to DeKalb, and entering them in the lottery has been a truly bizarre process. I feel like the website should just be the text of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”. In December, I went through the process to get them registered, which required two trips to the office on Mountain Industrial (the first was to bring required paperwork, the second was to explain why my 3 year old doesn’t have previous school transcripts, which is because he is 3 and has not started school yet.)

    Then, I registered for infinite campus, which is required to be able to log-in to e-portal. And my children’s information didn’t show up. I called the office in January, and was told that it wouldn’t show up until it was time to register. But come Feb 2, then Feb 9, it still wasn’t there. I went to Lawrenceville Highway, and they made me put in a new request, which I was told would take 5 – 7 business days to process.

    And, on top of that, now that all of the info is finally in place, the e-portal isn’t working. There are 6 numbers you can call for support, but all of them give you a different pre-recorded message stating things that I already know, and not giving any kind of technical support. And when you actually drive down there, they’ll just tell you THE SYSTEM IS DOWN, DON’T EVEN TRY. So, why isn’t that being widely publicized, instead of this weird message from Thurmond???

  11. “E-Portal will be offline Monday.

    “The DeKalb County School District continues its goal to improve the E-Portal application for the online school choice enrollment program. Therefore, we will be performing system maintenance on Monday, February 16, 2015 beginning at 12:00a.m. Also, the school district is closed in observance of President’s Day. During this time there will be no access to any portion of the E-Portal application. The program will be back online by Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 12:00a.m. Thank you as we work to improve the E-Portal application.”

  12. AnotherBaffledDekalbParent says:

    So, it looks like the E-Portal is back up today February 18th. I checked to see if the errors that existed on my application last week that were not truly errors would go away.

    Street Address Not Listed..it is listed, still getting error.
    Attendance Area and Next Attendance Area not listed – both students are enrolled in Dekalb schools at this time, still getting error.
    The Magnet/Theme Schools Office Address: 1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard, Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083..where I agree the location of the office is probably a mistake but that is a bigger issue, and no idea on why this would be an error on an application.

    The kicker is, there is a new error today
    Applicant does not meet GPA requirements. Mail or bring academic report to Magnet/Theme School Office…the listed GPA is a 4.0. That doesn’t qualify?

    I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but all I have left to give is doubt. No more benefit. .

  13. @AnotherBaffledDekalbParent >> Oh how incredibly frustrating…

  14. Kim says:

    We are fast approaching the deadline (Feb 27th) and this still isn’t fixed. I have been told that if you’ve already started an online application, you cannot submit a paper one. Also, I, and many people seem to have online applications that are showing their children as “ineligible” due to errors with the system (the errors I’m seeing are almost identical to anotherbaffleddekalbparents). I got through on the phone today, and was told that if your child is registered but showing as “ineligible” there is nothing to be done — they looked at my applications and agreed my children were eligible but that the errors were due to problems with the system, and the applications couldn’t be fixed. They say they are going to go in and clean it all up between 2/27 and the actual lottery date, but they can’t give you any kind of documentation to verify this. I don’t trust this at all!

    This is far from a fair lottery system at this point, and something needs to be done to reassure people… I would not be surprised to see legal action come of this.

  15. Just had a thought… when the SPLOST IV list was created (and it seems like that was ages ago, doesn’t it?) there was a scorecard on facilities needs that helped determine which schools would be upgraded, expanded, torn down, etc. BUT…. from what I recall, a third of that score was something called “Technology Readiness.” Since that time, however, SACS came to town and DeKalb nearly lost its accreditation. One of the SACS items was that the schools were terribly behind in their technology offerings and that needed to be fixed right way. So, Thurmond was hired and the IT Department made it a top priority to get all our schools up to par with where they should have been all along. There was a big deal that was made about the school system becoming 100% wireless. Now, my question is… if anyone knows… shouldn’t the SPLOST list be therefore reassessed to determine if the technology readiness scores had not been calculated into whatever this formula was that they used, how would the decisions have changed? Perhaps there are schools being scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt after we just invested in bringing them up to “code” as far as what SACS wanted everyone to have ? Seems like a huge waste of money if we are going to tear down buildings we just invested in, doesn’t it? Seems like a huge waste of money to tear down schools and rebuild them when it isn’t really needed when, perhpas, there are others in greater need. Does anyone know the impact of this technology portion of the facilities evaluations and whether or not that is something that will be looked at again since so much has changed?

    Thanks,

  16. frustrateddekalbparent says:

    It is only one week until the school choice application deadline and I still can’t get it to work. During the week of Feb. 9 the system kept shutting down when I tried to enter my address. This week my student is completely gone from the system. I submitted an online form to have them reappear and got a message that I should allow five business days for the student to be in the system. I also have not been able to speak to anyone on the phone. When I call the technical support I get a chronic busy signal or a rambling recording of little use. I am very skeptical that this will be a valid, fair lottery.

  17. EAV Mom says:

    My problem was my youngest wasn’t showing up when I logged into ePortal. I went down to the Lawrenceville Hwy location today. Had to wait maybe 30 minutes. There was a very nice tech who quickly helped to resolve the problem and I was able to process my application. I wouldn’t trust waiting for online help or the paper application. If at all possible, go down there and resolve things in person. Seems to be the only way to ensure your kid will be in the lottery.

  18. EAVMom, I’m so glad you were able to resolve your issue so easily! It’s nice to hear that it’s working for some. Though also frustrating. I have been to Lawrenceville Hwy office 3 times, and called and got through to speak to a person once, and my application problems remain. I am not sure what else I can do, and I know many others in the same boat.

  19. dekalbinsideout says:

    Click here to tell Jennifer Leslie 11Alive who is looking for …. “Any ‪#‎DeKalb‬ parents having trouble with their child’s online school choice application? Let me know, and we might include your comments in a story.”

  20. We want all parents whose children will be or may be negatively affected by DeKalb County Schools’ non-working School Choice technology to contact Jennifer Leslie at 11 Alive.

    However, given DeKalb County Schools’ history of retaliation and retribution, if you are afraid to contact Jennifer directly because you will have to provide your real name and contact information — perhaps your child’s name and current school as well — please send us your story. Indicate how you want it used: given to 11 Alive (we will do it personally) or published on this blog. In either instance, your name and personally identifying information (contact information, child’s name, child’s school) will be securely redacted.

    You may safely and securely send your story to DeKalb School Watch, P. O. Box 660221, Atlanta, GA 30341 AND/OR send it to our email: dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com.

    If you send the story of your difficulties with School Choice technology by regular mail, be sure to use a mail box outside of a DCS facility — preferably, take it to your nearest Post Office.

    If you use email, do NOT email it from inside or in the vicinity of a DCS facility (you might accidentally connect to DCS wi-fi); do NOT use any DCS equipment (i.e., computer, laptop) or wi-fi connection. Also, send it to DSW email (dekalbschoolwatch@gmail.com), NOT to this blog. There have been several instances when someone inadvertently has posted something on the blog and used their real name. They contact us as soon as they realize their error, but we are volunteers and are not sitting in front of our computers all the time. We might not see your message right away. We make the correction as quickly as we can, but it could be 24 hours later.

    Don’t delay! Time is of the essence here.

  21. Teachermom says:

    Check the dekalb website for the spin press release on this. Apparently we are attracting all kinds of families who are looking for school choice.

  22. DeKalb schools promise fix for choice enrollment snags

    Stone Mountain, GA — Parents are sounding off through social media about problems with the DeKalb County School District’s new online school choice application process, which ends on Friday.

    “I still can’t even get logged in!” wrote one parent on Facebook.

    “To say we are frustrated is an understatement!!!!” wrote another.

    Early Monday morning, it appeared the district’s technology staff was making progress to fix problems that started when the enrollment period opened three weeks ago.

    For the first time, the status of some students was changed from “ineligible” to “eligible,” despite earlier issues with addresses.

    Thousands of parents use the online system to apply to get their children into one of dozens of popular programs, including magnet, charter and theme schools.

    “I’m very disappointed about the rollout of school choice,” said DeKalb School Board Member Stan Jester, who’s heard an earful from parents. “I realize technology is difficult, but we spend a lot of money on IT. I expect these systems to work the first time.”

    DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond issued a written apology two weeks ago and addressed the issue on Friday during an interview with 11Alive’s Jennifer Leslie.

    “We apologize to any parent who’s had difficulty,” he said. “We have to work through the problems, and we’re doing better everyday. Hopefully next year, all the bugs will be worked out.”

    Thurmond blamed the problem on a spike in interest and applications.

    The process has been so problematic that the district dedicated five different phone numbers for parent technical support.

    But 11Alive called every number on Friday and couldn’t get through to anyone.

    The school district provided 11Alive with copies of e-mails from parents praising staff members who’ve been handling complaints.

    “I just wanted to write you and tell you about the great customer service I received with my school choice application,” Sean Jacobs wrote. “The staff has really been helpful.”

    District officials said staff will take 30 days to go through the applications and clean up any errors before the lotteries start.

    Many of these programs are so popular, the district has to pick names through a lottery to see who gets in.

    As of Friday, the district had processed 3,424 online applications and 1,347 paper applications.

  23. FrustratedTOO says:

    If they are experiencing all of these issues, who could feel confident that when it’s time for the lottery to take place that it will be done correctly. Dekalb need to have someone review the school choice process/programming from application submission to lottery selection for accuracy.

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