Tech Roll-out Continues As Portal, Web Site Get Facelift

3 min read

The new school year brought many technological changes to Sequoyah. Jean-Philippe Fontaine, Sequoyah’s educational technology coordinator, worked together with other members of the administration to make changes to online and hardware tools at the school, based on faculty, student, and parent feedback.

One of the biggest changes this year is the new family portal. The school chose the learning management system onCampus, created by WhippleHill, an education software company recently acquired by Blackbaud, because of its flexibility and value. Elena Phleger, Sequoyah’s director of communication, said that the old Family Portal, built using Google Sites, “was really a pilot in the sense that we were cobbling it together ourselves.” Families complained, however, that the portal “was really hard to navigate.” Fontaine added that “the new family portal is responsive, and Google wasn’t,” referring to the capability of the new system to adapt to the screen size of a user’s device, whether a tablet, smartphone, or a laptop.

Students expressed some frustrations with the new portal, primarily focusing on its complex navigational structure. Aaron Tyler, an eighth-grader in the Junior High, said that homework is harder to find on the system than it was with Google Calendar.

In fact, the Junior High has started to use Google Calendar again, after attempting to use the onCampus system for homework assignments. Aris Demopoulos, a seventh-grade Junior High student, much prefers Google Calendar for assignments, as “it’s very easy to access through your Sequoyah account and is easier to write things into.” 

Teachers also had quibbles with the new platform. A teacher, who requested anonymity out of a desire to save criticism for more vital concerns, said that “I’m used to Gmail, and I find using [Google’s] Calendar…allows me to do things that I can’t do on the family portal. [The portal is] too complicated, that’s really the problem. A much simpler kind of portal would make me use it more often.”

onCampus was not the only change to Sequoyah’s online presence in the wider community. The school also launched new websites for the K-8 school and the soon-to-be high school. Found through a landing page at sequoyahschool.org or seqschool.org, the sites were designed by former and current parents. The K-8 site was designed and programmed by former parents Sally Pfeiffer and Steve Terui, respectively. The high school website was designed by Chris Kirk, parent of Solaar (Junior High) and Joaquin (Over There) Kirk Dacker, and programmed by Sarah Mattern. Phleger oversaw the development of both sites over last spring and summer, though the update was originally planned in January. Amber Sturdivant, parent of Devon (Out Back) and Rubina Davila (Treehouse), shot the photography for the sites. Phleger praised the photos as “extraordinary,” for giving “a sense for the look and feel of Sequoyah.”

Sequoyah also acquired new hardware this year. Following a pre-determined acquisition schedule, Sequoyah bought 30 new HP Chromebooks. Fontaine says that the school has the right number of Chromebooks now, such that “if a student needs a machine or a teacher needs a machine, they’re available.” The new Chromebooks are identical to the HP Chromebooks the school already owned, aside from the new Chromebooks being black, whereas the older Chromebooks are white. Chromebook carts have been dispersed around the campus so that teachers and students can get Chromebooks without walking across the campus. The Chromebook carts are now in the Spanish room, the Junior High, the Out Back, and the Over There. The iPad cart is still in the library.

Another big change, upsetting to some students and teachers, is new restrictions on the Xerox machines. Teachers are still able to use the copiers, but they have to enter a personal code given to them by the school. Students used to be able to scan and print things for teachers and themselves, but are no longer allowed to. Fontaine said that the change was made for the “printer’s efficiency.”   Eighth-grader Max Barak said, “it sucks…we can’t print at school.” Ben Moran, a physical education specialist, believes that any student or teacher who knows how to use the machines without being wasteful should be allowed to use the printer. The Operations Department had not yet responded at press time to a request for comment on the change.  Fontaine said that Sequoyah is in the process of purchasing printers for classrooms so that students can continue to print at school.