Beginning this week, Proviso Township High School District 209 is rolling out a series of new and revamped Web sites meant to improve the relationship between the troubled school system and the community.
Over the course of several weeks, new sites for each of the three high schools and the district offices will go live on the Internet. Also, staff members will be given access to new intranet programs intended to streamline communication in-house.
A preview of the eight Web sites was rolled out for board members at their Feb. 19 meeting, the same day the district’s site went online at www.pths209.org. Sites for the individual schools will debut in the coming weeks.
“Here’s everything that’s going on in this school and here’s how to get involved,” said Scott Schroeder, a consultant who steered the project.
Schroeder is the executive director of Technivista, which is the same firm that delivered a dismal picture of the district’s performance during a November 2006 board meeting. At that meeting, Schroeder pointed to a crushing lack of communication as one of the primary factors in the district’s financial woes, poor student performance and overall lack of accountability.
According to Schroeder and Superintendent Stan Fields, the new Web sites will encourage improvements in all those areas.
But what will be immediately apparent to visitors is the look of each site. The black background doesn’t match any of the school colors and is supposed to evoke a sleek, edgy feel. Every page is loaded with flashy graphics and animation.
Administrators are hopeful that users will recognize the amount of content posted on the sites, and not dismiss the sizzle for lack of steak.
Schroeder said the district’s new Web pages will arguably be the best school sites in the country.
“The flash is more the icing on the cake,” Schroeder said.
Volunteer opportunities and committee appointments will be posted online, as will the district’s budget, lesson plans and information on student athletics.
On a weekly basis, teachers at Proviso East, Proviso West and the Proviso Math and Science Academy will be required to update their grade books using district software. With an Internet password, parents and students will be able to more closely track academic performance.
Community members will even have a place to voice concerns or share ideas for improvements, and those issues will be tracked graphically for Web users to see.
“We’re exposing ourselves to everyone,” Fields said.
The purchase price to design and launch the new sites is $192,000. As part of a contract with Technivista to monitor almost 120 areas of district performance, Schroeder and his staff will oversee the redesigned pages.
Internally, Fields said he hoped to “re-purpose” several existing positions to handle day-to-day management. Neither the superintendent nor Schroeder could speak to the level of Internet access residents in Proviso Township have.
Board member Charles Flowers said any school district would be pleased to have a Web site of this quality, but he remains concerned with the price tag and the bidding process. Schroeder’s firm was also brought into the fold in north suburban Mundelein, where Fields worked prior to being hired by District 209.
According to Flowers, the bidding process smacks of the patronage problems that helped earn the district a multi-million dollar deficit.
“What are the odds that the same guy who showed up in District 209 also showed up in Mundelein,” Flowers said. “You met the minimal requirement and you hired the people you wanted to hire.”
Fields said the contract was competitively bid.
In an e-mail from Schroeder to the district on Jan. 16, Schroeder discussed the costs associated with the project. According to a copy of that document provided by the district, the initial estimate for the project was $230,000. However, that cost was reduced because Technivista plans to use these sites as marketing tools when bidding on other contracts.