Viper community pitches in to help
By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
When nearly 2,800 Vandegrift High School students started the 2019-2020 school year a month ago, the district-wide technology overhaul and ensuing problems left days of confusion for many Vipers. VHS counselors and other key staffers were in overdrive mode for nearly a week resolving the technology blip that caused errors in student schedules.
The Viper community responded and about a dozen volunteers supported VHS through the problem. Most of the volunteers would stay longer than their two to three hour shifts because they just saw the need to be there, said Carla George, the parent of a senior student, who coordinated the assistance.
“We had a three-hour line of students and, (on) the first day, it was probably two hall lengths long (in the lecture hall),” George said.
The technology problem started during the summer when the district migrated to a new information system — tantamount to enterprise software in the business world — that was responsible for teachers’ gradebooks, attendance statistics, accounting and master scheduling, said Charlie Little, VHS principal.
The challenges affected high schools mostly even though every LISD school was dealing with this, he said.
“It’s the whole engine networking computer system for the school,” Little said of the program.
The process of inputting new information for the upcoming school year typically begins in April or May, after the students build their schedules in February, he said. Because of the transition to a new system, staff had to somewhat delay this process, a measure that was expected since counselors couldn’t be working in the system during the upgrade, Little said.
However, an unanticipated additional technical problem caused students’ schedules to be incomplete or incorrect at the beginning of school, leaving the counseling department “a bit behind where we typically are with the scheduling process,” said Kandice Detlefsen, lead counselor. The system that creates individual course schedules for students was impacted, throwing a wrench into the first days of the new school year, she said.
“As Vandegrift continues to grow, and we have exponentially more students than perhaps the schools around us, or just than we have had in the past, there are quite a few students to manage,” Detlefsen said.
Individual conversations were needed with each student to determine what data might be missing from his or her schedule, she said.
Vandegri has 2,781 students enrolled in the school and seven counselors out of the sta of 200, Little said.
“When the kids started coming in, the first priority was making sure they all had a place to go,” Little said of this year’s first school day on Aug. 15. “Then, once they had a place to go, the next priority was, ‘are they in the right place?’”
Enter Viper parents.
George said she got an email from a school counselor regarding the schedule troubles the staffer was having and offered her help.
“I thought, ‘well, if she’s having trouble, then the whole school must be having trouble,’” George said.
She was told the counseling department could use some assistance for the first few days of school, even if it was just fielding phone calls, checking in students and coordinating them with their respective counselors.
In the days that followed, George said she organized a team of about 10 – 12 other volunteers per day to help get students to their counselors and check them into the system, posting an ‘SOS’ on the Class of 2020 senior parents’ Facebook page.
“It filled up just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers to show the huge response she received for assistance.
The help continued for four days, with most volunteers registering new students to the school or assisting those who had either nothing on their schedules or were missing periods, George said.
Volunteers also boosted morale and brought in food for the school counselors and staffers to help the process run smoother.
George said the staff barely got a restroom break on the first school day so she ordered pizzas for the crew. The next morning, breakfast tacos arrived, followed by cookies and other goodies to bring a smile to the faces of overworked staffers, she said.
“We just tried to do whatever we could to help out,” George said. “The (counselors) were very appreciative.”
The first four days of the school year were critical, Little said. “That was when the parents really stepped up. That’s when it was ‘go time.’”
George acknowledged the Viper community is “special” and parents love the opportunity to be at the school, involved with the teens. And, she said the students didn’t seem to mind the inconvenience too much and weren’t flustered by the situation.
“It does your heart good to see the community come together when the school has a need,” George said.
Clear sailing now
Despite the startup glitch, Little said the new program is running smoothly now and referred to the project as a “super big improvement” over the former system, with the scheduling and other framework now in place for the following years to come.
“Big picture — this program is amazing and districts use it all over,” Little said. “This is a state-of-the-art school enterprise system.”