Portland schools to try online kindergarten registration

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PORTLAND — The Portland Public Schools for the first time will offer online student registration.

The pilot program, for kindergarten only, is an attempt to minimize errors and make enrolling students quick and convenient for families.

Kiosks connecting parents to a new registration portal will be available at each elementary school starting Feb. 26. Parents can also go to the School Department website, www.portlandschools.org, to register their children.

Grace Valenzuela, director of the Multilingual & Multicultural Center, said the schools are attempting to eliminate the mass of paperwork that has traditionally been required for enrollment.

Although parents will now have the benefit of being able to register their students online, they will still be required to provide several documents in person at their local school. Those documents are an original proof of birth, immunization records and proof of residency in Portland.

“This is bringing us into the 21st century in ways we absolutely need to go,” Xavier Botana, superintendent of schools, said at the Feb. 6 School Board meeting.

“(Online registration) will be more expedient for parents and staff and represents a tremendous step forward,” he said.

In outlining the online registration process for School Board members, Valenzuela said the paper-based process was “inefficient, time-consuming and labor intensive,” whereas the digital registration should be “smooth, efficient and convenient.”

She said the School Department will hold an official registration period for kindergarten students from Feb. 26-March 9. While this is not the only time parents can enroll their youngsters, Valenzuela said it will allow the School Department to more easily and conveniently set up screening appointments and ensure that families are made aware of and invited to attend spring orientation sessions to introduce kids to their schools.

Valenzuela said parents in the past were required to fill out several different forms, many of them requesting the same identifying information. And, if a family had more than one child, they had to fill out separate forms for each child.

With online registration, she said, the School Department should be able to minimize the need for school staff to interpret handwritten documents. It should also mean fewer errors and eliminate duplicate entries.

The online registration portal is part of Infinite Campus, which Michael Dery, the School Department’s technology services director, said is a cloud-based system that meets all federal guidelines for securing student information.

Ensuring that the information families are providing about their students is protected and remains shielded was of particular concern to School Board member Mark Balfantz.

Valenzuela said the School Department began exploring the possibility of moving to online registration last summer. The goal was to pilot the portal with kindergarten students as a way to work out any kinks or glitches in the system, she said.

Valenzuela said the district’s information technology department tailored the online platform it built to meet the specific needs of the Portland schools and said the individual school registrars provided key assistance to that process.

She said that moving to the new online registration portal required “a lot of training” for school staff, but they’re now ready to assist parents as they use the kiosks. Non‐English speaking families, however, will still be directed to the Multilingual Center for assistance.

In a memo provided to the School Board last week, Botana said, “Online registration will not only reduce the amount of paper copies needed … but provide a more efficient and cost-effective means to register students.”

While the School Department is touting the cost effectiveness of the new registration process, officials said no formal analysis of cost savings or the cost to get the online system up and running was done.

“Some of the benefits and key functionalities,” Botana added, mean that once parents have entered their information initially, their household data will be retained and easily accessed.

The portal’s digital repository also allows the schools to readily upload birth certificates and immunization records or other necessary documents. There’s also a virtual “inbox” where staff can make special notes about a student’s residential, special education or health status.

Valenzuela said families are being made aware of the new online registration process through a variety of means, including email, social media and outreach to the various pre-school providers in the community.

Overall, the School Board seemed pleased by the new process. “This is great,” member Marnie Morrione said. “This has been a long time in coming.”

If all goes well with the pilot program, Valenzuela said, the hope is to eventually open up online registration to all new students entering the school system.

In other business last week, the School Board voted 7-0, with Laurie Davis and Tim Atkinson absent, to appoint Davis, Roberto Rodriguez and Sarah Thompson to the Building Committee overseeing the $64 million, four-school renovation project, which voters approved in November.

In addition, Botana informed the board that the second Monday in October, traditionally known as Columbus Day, will now be called Indigenous Peoples Day on the official school calendar.

This move aligns with a City Council vote last fall to recognize the region’s native Americans. Columbus Day is still recognized as a federal holiday, although several municipalities in Maine and the nation have renamed it on the local level.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Portland Public Schools will begin offering online registration for kindergarten students on Feb. 26.

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