Clicking onto the Anne Arundel County public school system's Web site is not the same experience it was a year ago.
News is updated regularly. Individual school Web pages are available through links. A special section lists school closings in bad weather. And now there is a full-time Webmaster to make sure that the updates are timely and complete.
The modifications are the result of one of the many pledges Superintendent Eric J. Smith made in his first days in office to ensure that the major changes he has planned for the school system are communicated accurately.
In the new Web position, Donna Hoyle, who began work last week, will work with schools countywide, helping those without Web sites to design them.
Hoyle will also be responsible for posting such information as scholarship deadlines, meeting agendas and other school announcements.
"The whole idea is to really expand the site, to put as much information as possible out there," Hoyle said. "It's going to serve as a really great information tool to educate parents and the community about what's going on."
The school system is also making other technological shifts aimed at helping Smith achieve his aggressive goals.
Smith has promised that in the next five years, 45 percent of eighth-graders will complete algebra I. He also wants to boost the percentage of students taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes from the current 15 percent to 40 percent. He is moving middle and high schools to block scheduling by next fall -- a change that will keep the students in classes for longer periods and, Smith believes, keep them from falling behind.
Major changes like these, Smith has argued, require technology that keeps up with the momentum. To that end, the school system conducted a study earlier this year of what technology is used throughout the system and how. The study resulted in several dozen recommendations, some of which are already being put into place, said Associate Superintendent Joseph Wise.
By the end of the school year, all the computers in schools will be replaced with newer models. Plans are also underway to reorganize the technology staff to do away with job overlaps. Another change will have members of the technology team meeting with principals to set goals on what types of equipment should be in place, Wise said.
"Keeping great tools in front of teachers and students is high on (Smith's) list," said Wise, who previously worked as chairman and chief executive officer at ESchool Solutions, an educational technology company based in Orlando.
In Anne Arundel, Wise's work appears to be paying off, at least on the Web site, which has had 500,000 visits since July, Hoyle said.
The hope is that the site will become a regular stop for parents, community members and teachers. School officials also hope the site will help the system recruit prospective teachers with the posting of job openings and requirements.
"It's much more user-friendly," Wise said. "We've got a wonderful Web site for people to come back to."