Port Townsend School District upgrades website, phones for approaching new school year
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Port Townsend High School secretary Jan Boutilier, left, and librarian Ann Healy-Raymond check out the school’s new website, which will be live by the first day of classes Sept. 2. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend School District will resume classes Sept. 3 with an improved communications infrastructure.

The three-school district will have a new Internet-based phone system and a redesigned website that allows teachers and students to use technology as a learning tool in unprecedented ways — at least for the school district.

“We are leapfrogging into the 21st century,” said Superintendent David Engle of the improvements that many corporations and computer users now take for granted.

The voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) allows easy teleconferencing and call transfer and the ability to send voice messages as email.

The new website gives teachers the tools to create their own Web pages and develop special sites for individual projects.

“We now have a place to tell our own story,” said Ann Healy-Raymond, district librarian.

“We can stay connected with each other and show the public what’s happening in the school system.”

The redesigned site, www.ptschools.org, is operational, but many of the links are inactive, a situation that should be corrected this week, according to Engle.

Each of the three schools — Port Townsend High, Blue Heron Middle and Grant Street Elementary — will have its own site, with every teacher able to create individual pages “as easily as you create a [Microsoft] Word document,” Engle said.

Students also will be able to use a mobile app to connect with teachers, get assignments and see their grades.

“Kids live off of their phones and their tablets,” Engle said.

“With the mobile app, they can get their assignments from everywhere.”

Parents and other members of the public will be able to download the app and see the public part of the site.

Passwords will protect such personal data as grades and teachers’ comments.

The new website also provides a connection to the old “Skyward” system that has been used for grades and assignments.

Engle said the district would have liked to have integrated Skyward into the new interface, but it’s not technologically possible at this time.

The new system will cost $55,600 for the 2014-15 school year, about $8,000 more than the previous system, “for much-increased capabilities,” said finance director Sara Bonneville.

The district also paid $3,400 for 10 high-use phones and four sets of conference equipment. The 164 basic phones cost the district nothing.

“It’s like a cellphone plan when you get the handset for free,” Engle said.

High school secretary Jan Boutilier is happy with the new system.

“We can now send fax from phones and do blind transfers when before, we needed to give out extensions to the callers,” she said.

“The voice mail on the old phones never worked. We have been taking messages by hand.”

Boutilier doesn’t know exactly when the old phone system was installed, guessing it was in the early 1990s.

Engle said it was no longer possible to replace or repair the old phones, and many of them were all but useless.

Healy-Raymond hopes to involve the students in providing content for the website to tell the public about important or interesting school programs.

“We’ll be able to do a lot of things that we can’t do now,” Engle said of the new system.

“It was too difficult for teachers to set up pages on the old system.

“This makes it better for them, along with the students and the public.“

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 23. 2014 6:52PM
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