Thursday, August 8, 2013

L I N K P O S T : Back to school in CCISD

Seriously, I don't know how people with multiple children handle the school information management challenges, especially folks with kids in high school.  Yes, Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) is a well-rated district - the schools are good quality and the Superintendent is literally second to none.  But it's a massive district with highly complex and diverse operations and the information resources are distributed among so many unrelated e-spaces that sometimes the school officials themselves don't know where to find specific info when you ask for it (been there, done that, as a parent). 

And there has never seemed to be a cohesive "go-to" launch site that pulls all that stuff together in one place.  With this in mind, I decided to create a narrative Linkpost summarizing the highlights of that sourcing. 

The usual disclaimers apply - the information presented below is not warranted to be complete and if you're reading this past August 2013, much of it will probably be out of date.  Contact the ISD directly if you have questions.

(1) Calendars.  Here is a downloadable PDF of the 2013-2014 district calendar that applies to all schools.  And here below is the same calendar converted to JPG: 
Tap the image to expand.  I routinely get "cannot find font" errors with the original PDF and it will sometimes hang Acrobat on one of my machines, so I converted it to JPG. 
This site contains additional, targeted calendars (e.g., athletics).  Both CCISD and its individual campuses also utilize Google+ calendars, but I have never sucked up that stuff into my own calendars because I have found they contain too much that doesn't apply to our family - classic information overload syndrome leading to non-functionality.  Perhaps if you are a Google virtuoso, you could optimize that stuff for your own use.  My method of retaining organizational sanity is to selectively enter only those "mission critical" school dates into my own Outlook calendar and assign them their own color. 

Additionally, many individual Parent-Teacher-Student Associations (PTSAs) also embed a calendar on their website, such as this one for Clear Creek, which is Centerpointe's zoned high school.  More about PTSA in a section further down. 

(2) Logistics.  CCISD has produced this back-to-school portal which will help guide you to logistical information such as attendance maps, bus routes, and individual campus enrollment dates.  In significant measure, I will not repeat all that information, except for caveats which I will include below (subject to future updating). 
Don't be surprised if the bus / school portal does not function.  It was returning "No Busing Information Available" and "No School Information Available" messages for any and all geographic inputs as I was writing this post.  Phone CCISD if you're having a problem for your area. 
(3) Registration.  Registration packets are neither emailed nor snail-mailed.  They must be picked up by families, preferably according to schedules specific to each of CCISD's 43 individual schools (I believe you can wait until the first day of school to receive them, but completing a packet takes a lot of time and it's best done in advance of the flurry of first-week activity).  Start at this page, click your school level (elementary, middle, or high), then click the individual webpage for your school to find out when the pick-up dates are (e.g., here is the link for Clear Creek High). 

Notice that, when you click to the individual school level, the web page "feel" might look like you're leaving the CCISD system.  Also, be aware that the information on those individual school sites might not be updated in a timely manner and it might not be presented in a way that makes sense to you.  For instance, we know from the PTSA website that yesterday and today are the days for pick-up of the Creek registration packets, but as of 8:50 a.m. yesterday, there was no corresponding announcement on the homepage of the school itself. 
I suggest being very careful and double-checking everything school-related that you research as a parent. 

Screengrabbed from this site.
Here's a concise grab from the Clear Creek High PTSA site

CCISD registration packets will vary somewhat from school to school and level to level (elementary, middle and high) but generally they contain the following:
  • A pre-printed child-specific information verification form (unless your child is new to the district)
  • Medical info sheet
  • A back-to-school calendar
  • Residency questionnaire
  • Handbook / code of conduct receipt acknowledgment
  • Educational planning information (partial list of guides here)
  • PTSA enrollment form
  • Various releases and participation agreements for special programs
My suggestion is as follows:  The forms all have to be filled out by hand and signed with ink, but I make scanned copies of the entire package before my child turns it in.  This way if we later get accused of neglecting to provide some information (been there, done that), I can simply email the corresponding scanned sheet. 

(4)  Individual Enrollment Issues.  Once you get your enrollment package filled out and all attachments included (e.g., immunization records, proof of residency, etc.), your child is ready for the pre-first-day-of-school "camp" during which their completed registration will be accepted and they will be issued textbooks for home use.  Check with your school's website for dates and times. 

(5) Lunches.  CCISD is currently using the third-party provider ParentOnline for internet-based funding of lunch accounts.  If memory serves me, the charges show up on credit cards tagged as "Cybersoft". 

(6)  Individual Class Information Sites.  Many teachers in the higher grades maintain their own websites which are hosted on yet another set of third-party platforms (no cohesion).  Often in order to find out what those are, your child first has to bring home the hard copy information sheet he or she will receive during the first week of classes.  Those sheets should contain the corresponding web page addresses. 

(7)  Textbooks.  Note that for the higher grades, numerous textbooks are moving to a new system of electronic access for the 2013-2014 school year (although I believe that hard copies will still also be issued to students).  This change is not yet associated with the tablet program approved by the voters in the recent bond election - those come in later years.  In the short term, my research revealed that many textbooks previously available on the open internet are now migrating behind a paywall.  Your child will be given a username and password to access content specific to the courses in which they are enrolled.  I previously raised holy hell about this policy change (we, the taxpayers, have already paid for that content, so what is the justification for restricting access??) but we'll just have to see how this new program deploys this fall before we can further evaluate what is transpiring. 

(8) Student Progress Monitoring.  Here's where the info management challenge gets even more dicey because the cohesion is not what it could be.  At present, there are several different logins through which performance information is accessible: 
  • The student-access site called E4
  • The separate adult-access portal which had been called Parent Self Serve (not to be confused with the aforesaid Parent Online) but which is now apparently referred to as TEAMS.   I believe you need to be set up by CCISD itself to access that one (you can't initiate your own username and password).  This site contains the nuts 'n' bolts of grades, attendance, and other statistics. 
  • Yet another login site called CCISD4ME.  This contains general information as well as links to both TEAMS and ParentOnline.   
  • CCISD also has something called Naviance Family Connection which is a planning resource for high schoolers.  In an announcement contained within the 2013-2014 registration packet, the announcement says "Please contact the counseling office for assistance if you do not know your registration code.  Note that you and your child will each receive different registration codes, and that each code may be used only once."  Fantastic - it sounds like it will be even more difficult than logging into the new restricted-access textbook system.   
Don't ask me why there are so many different unrelated websites and resources that show so little intuitive organization and cohesion.  It's frustrating.  I guess this is just where we are right now in what the Information Age can offer at the level of public schools. 

(9)  PTSA.  Even if you have no urge to volunteer or "get involved", I recommend joining your school's PTSA simply for sanity's sake.  I've never found any of them to be overbearing in the sense of the "PTA from hell" social stereotype, and they do provide useful e-mail blasts which I find save me time and energy that would otherwise be spent hunting and pecking through many different hosted websites for information.  They're worth the entry fee. 

(10) Robo-calls.  I also recommend the robo-dialing automated school reminder messages, especially if your smartphone has visual voice mail capability which will allow you to prioritize those messages during your day.  Yes, as a matter of fact, some of our family days are so complex that I do benefit when the school phones me up with automated reminders.  On some days, I feel like I hear the voice of Scott Bockart (Creek's Principal and the voice behind its friendly robo-calls) more than that of my own husband.  I've been on the robo-system for so long now that I can't remember how I joined.  Contact your individual school for info. 

Anyway, this is a scratch-the-surface compilation of some of the more common relevant CCISD links.  There are probably errors and omissions in this post, so be sure to double-check everything I've summarized.  Good luck as we all gear up for the new school year. 
If only it were as easy as readin, writin, and rithmetic.

Microsoft clip art. 

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