Alder uses software to monitor student and staff emails

(Posted Sept. 17, 2018)

By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer

Students in upper grades at Jonathan Alder Local Schools are being watched for what they write in emails.

Bret Longberry, technology director, reported at the Sept. 10 school board meeting that the district issued 26 warnings to students this past spring for profanity and other violations of the district’s accepted use policies.

“Sometimes, we find that what violates policy at school is acceptable at home,” Longberry said.

And students aren’t the only ones being watched. Gaggle, the monitoring software, scans staff emails, too. The district issued three warnings to school staff members.

Gaggle can scan for mention of bullying, drugs or alcohol and use of provocative images. The program also identifies emergencies that could result in self harm, such as cutting, overuse of drugs, and suicide, Longberry said. The district issued three warnings in this category.

According to Longberry, Gaggle is affiliated with Google and uses machine intelligence to categorize incidents by looking for key words. After a human team reviews red-flagged transmissions, it notifies school staff who then decide what step to take next.

“This is geared to be another tool for early response to school safety issues,” he said.

The program, which costs $4.10 per student, was piloted in the high school, junior high and middle school in the spring of 2018. Longberry said the next step is to look at the elementary school.

Nationwide, he said, such overview saved the lives of 542 students by uncovering transmissions that warranted district contacts.

“At $4.10 per student, it’s worth every penny of it,” he said.

Also at the school board meeting, Superintendent Gary Chapman said enrollment is up 29 students from last year. Enrollment figures show 2,292 students this year, up from the 2,263 this time last year.

A big jump was noted at the kindergarten level. Last year 53 students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten classes. This year the kindergarten classes have 146 students. Another big increase came at the fifth grade level where 182 students are enrolled, up from last year’s fourth grade enrollment of 167.

With the Ohio Department of Education just days away from releasing the district report cards, Misty Swanger, deputy superintendent, had an advance copy of the report for Jonathan Alder which showed the district getting a B.

“We’re excited to get a B,” she said.

The district, according to this early report, scored 3.125 points, which was the bottom threshold for that letter grade, the first time that letter grades were given on state report cards.

The district scored an A in “gap closing” by which they work with the most vulnerable populations of students in English language arts, math, and graduation. Jonathan Alder also earned an A for its graduation rate of 99.4 percent over a four-year period.

The board’s next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in the board room at the high school. The two meetings after that will be on the road at the Plain City Elementary in November and Canaan Middle School in December.

After regular business, the board adjourned to an executive session to discuss the shared service agreement for the district treasurer.

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