Teachers give new data system an F, for frustration
The anticipation was high.
After months of balancing classroom demands with the challenge of learning a new computer data system, scores of teachers from Turkey to England were set to spend an entire day getting to know the program better.
It was the morning of Feb. 3, and teachers, as well as other personnel, at six DODDS-Europe schools were eager to get started. Then a problem ensued, and half of a workday that was to have been spent being tutored on the fine points of the Student Management Solution, or SMS, was lost.
“It’s a complete and utter mess,” Alconbury High School teacher Cynthia Taggart said of the new student data system.
But the real issue that day was a configuration error with a network server, said Richard Gamble, who, until recently, was the SMS expert for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. Gamble now works for the Department of Defense Education Activity in Arlington, Va.
That incident, even if it wasn’t an SMS glitch, only served to further undermine the faith many DODDS personnel have in the new data system.
At school meetings, on Web sites and in teachers’ lounges, a lot of the talk this school year has centered on SMS, the Web-based upgrade to Win School, its predecessor. The centralized student information system, as well as its forerunner, were created by Chancery Software Ltd., of Vancouver, Canada.
One Web site, created by an enterprising critic, is called “SMS Oops.” The site includes ditties, cartoons and even a parody to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” apparently authored by faculty members in southern Europe.
“We know this is frustrating for our users,” said Frank O’Gara, a DODEA spokesman. “We sincerely regret the inconvenience to our employees.”
Nonetheless, O’Gara emphasized, DODEA is committed to the program, saying it “represents a quantum leap” over the previous system. DODEA’s contract with a Virginia-based consulting firm hired to manage the program spans five years at a cost of $7.4 million, according to O’Gara.
“We had major growing pains” with Win School, O’Gara said of the old program, which was introduced seven years ago.
DODDS isn’t the only school system that has had problems integrating the new student data system. The Nashville public school system confronted a host of similar problems last year, ranging from class schedules to grades.
This year, the school district in Pasadena, Texas, implemented the SMS program. Critics there say it’s inefficient and difficult to operate.
“We’ll get to a resolution on this at some point,” O’Gara said. “We are going to make this thing work. We are committed to it.”
Reporter Ben Murray in the U.K. contributed to this story.