By Prudence Brighton
The School Department is embarking on an "unbelievably complex" process of moving all the data for the district's students and faculty to a new management platform, according to Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone.
Curriculum Director David Hill told the board told the School Committee the transition to the Aspen Student Information System would start this week.
Aspen is more than a database or software tool. It is a management platform. According to the Aspen website, it "eliminates the need for multiple databases and streamlines the process of reporting student data, creating instructional plans, and applying state-specific guidelines."
Aspen, for example, will maintain attendance, track grades, store student health records and manage family communications.
Despite the complexity of the project, Hill is confident the transition will go smoothly. He has managed the technical challenges of the project.
"Aspen has been, by far, supportive of all aspects," Hill said. "The success of anything like this is built on the validity and reliability of the data."
The project began two years ago, and its implementation phase began eight months ago, providing an opportunity to clean up any problems with the data and to start staff training.
Demand for a new student-information system arose because the current system has usability issues.
Aspen is already in use in Boston, Quincy, Andover and Billerica school districts as well as others across the state.
The cost of changing platforms is $92,741 over three years, according to School Business Administrator William Frangiamore.
The town will be charged $18,000 this year, with the rest divided equally over the next two years.
Each public school in Dracut will have faculty who have been identified as leaders and trainers. The elementary schools will each have two faculty leaders, while Richardson Middle School and Dracut High School will each have three.
Because the Aspen system will store student medical records and other sensitive data, School Committee member Sabrina Heisey asked about security.
Stone assured her that data encryption is industry standard, and Hill said it meets state mandates for security.
The initial plan, Hill said, was to switch over to the new system during summer vacation, but Aspen advised against it.
In part, Aspen made the recommendation because so few people are in the schools over the summer to manage the transition.
During the change-over, the school system is taking steps to ensure that high-school transcripts and other time-sensitive material is available.