Last year, Broadalbin-Perth students brought home sheaves of fliers and announcements each afternoon, charged by their teachers with making the parental hand-off.
“But anyone who has ever dealt with kids knows, they don’t always remember the papers,” said district spokeswoman Michele Kelley.
This fall, school administrators are cutting out the unreliable link between teachers and parents with something called an e-Backpack.
Instead of passing out paper announcements in class, teachers will simply upload scanned copies to a web server. Parents need only log on to see them.
Kelley said the system will be significantly more reliable than all 1,761 Broadalbin-Perth students jamming papers into physical backpacks. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper.
All those Boy Scout, Little League and concert fliers are costly. According to Kelley, the e-Backpack will save about $15,000 a year.
“You have to figure in staff time, along with the toner and paper,” she said. “This new system takes almost no staff time to implement because parents sign up themselves.”
There is one issue with any Web-based system — access. The district covers a rural area, and a few students lack Internet access. Al Marlin, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, brought up those concerns last week.
“I think it’s a good idea as long as printed fliers are still made available to those students who can’t get online,” he said.
Kelley said roughly 1 percent of the student body will continue to get papers because they lack online access.
“It sounds strange,” she said, “but we’re doing a flier saying we’re not doing fliers anymore the first day of school. It will include instructions for parents to follow if they don’t have Internet access.”
After Oct. 11, the other 99 percent will be one step closer to the district’s goal of paperless operation.
“We’ve been working to go paperless for a while,” she said, “because schools, well, they just use a lot of paper.”
Last year, the district invested in iPads for its seven Board of Education members. Instead of the district printing hundreds of pages of documents for every meeting, board members now just download a file. Kelley said the tablets paid for themselves in a few months.
The e-Backpack joins a similar system in the district’s paperless effort. The School News Notification network, which is already in place, sends out email alerts and text messages to registered parents before snow days and such, but Kelley said it has been under-utilized to this point.
That system will also handle more notifications this year.
Broadalbin-Perth is following in the footsteps of the Warwick Central School District downstate. Other districts across the state are also working to ditch physical paper in various ways, but few statistics are available on the progress toward this goal.
Marlin said his organization doesn’t keep track of who is going paperless. Kelley could comment only on the 60-plus districts under BOCES, none of which, she said, are using the e-Backpack system.
To the south, Sharon Springs Central School began handing out iPads to students, excluding the lower grades. The program allowed all students Web access and cut way back on the school’s textbook and paper costs.
Broadalbin-Perth isn’t at that level of paperless, but is working in that direction. Last year, Kelley said, the district received three state grants, one of which is slated for new technology. Another $500,000 was used to spearhead what she called a “virtual Advanced Placement program.”
Starting this fall, students will be able to take AP courses in regular classrooms through a web supplement, rather than additional books.
It all adds up to fewer sheets of paper.