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Putting up with glitches as a new school website rolls out [Editorial]

Parents of children in Baltimore County Public Schools will be able to go online and see their children's homework assignments, check their grades on tests and communicate more directly with teachers.

That's the promise of BCPS One, a website launched by the school district to improve parent access to what's going on with his or her youngster in the classroom. That is to say, that's the promise when the system is working, which, since the system launched this year, is most of time.

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The school district is upfront about the glitches. "We naturally expected throughout this first quarter there would be bug fixes," Ryan Imbriale, who is in charge of the system for the school district, told the Baltimore Sun this past week. This past weekend, for example, the site was down most of the weekend for an upgrade.

The network, which is costing about $750,000 this year, so far has attracted sign-ups by the parents of nearly 40,000 students, or 39 percent of those enrolled in county public schools. Not bad for a new product rollout, demostrating the value parents and students see in such a site. Conversely, frustration comes in when they find BCPS One working sporadically. This could undoubtedly be a greater concern as the marking period comes to an end and parents want to closely monitor their children's progress.

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Complicating matters, some teachers have entered data in the system only to see it disappear. And, parents have said some teachers are not using it yet. School officials acknowlege that "additional support" is needed for some users.

The system is being phased in over three years and school officials said teachers are currently free to use it as much as they like. The only requirement at present is that teachers post grades on it.

Baltimore County has become a state leader in new technology initiatives. This has been a priority for Superintendent Dallas Dance, who was hired two years ago. But in paving the way, pioneers hit obstacles. In implementing the new curriculum Common Core, the district heard complaints from teachers who could not access it online. BCPS One is a step forward and we want to see it succeed. We're accustomed to dealing with glitches when new technology is rolled out and some forebearance is in order here.

Our only suggestion is that, when the system is down, the district post a message to users akin to the old bad-television-reception alert: "We are experiencing technical difficulties. (Or, the system is down for maintenance.) Please stand by."

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