As school districts in southern Mississippi struggle back to normal life following Hurricane Katrina, they can at least be assured that once their computer systems are working, databases of student academic and demographic information can be downloaded with a few mouse clicks.
The Mississippi Student Information System—which stores the past four years of student records—is serving as a backup for districts that have lost crucial equipment and software, and the information they contain, said John W. Jordan, the deputy state superintendent of education.
There is a possible glitch, though, because districts were not required to upload initial data for the 2005-06 school year until Oct. 10, which means that the state records are complete only through last May, he said.
But quick thinking at the local level may have bridged that gap, as in the hard-hit Pass Christian district, where technology officials prepared for the storm late last month by making copies of data on CD-ROMs.
“We made backups of our backups,” said Teresa Burton, the 2,000-student district’s technology director.
Computer disks and laptops were distributed to school officials who headed north and east in cars to avoid the storm. Ms. Burton said the district’s software vendor also made a fresh copy of district records.
The precautions proved critical, because the district’s central office building and three of its four schools were destroyed or flooded, destroying computers that officials had placed on racks near first-floor ceilings.
Mississippi districts receiving evacuated students from other districts in the state are tapping the state’s database for course records, grades, Carnegie units, and special classifications, thus smoothing those students’ transitions into new schools, according to Mr. Jordan. “We’re able to transfer records and give another school district access to children’s records from the south,” he said.
For students who have relocated to other states, Mississippi is e-mailing the same information to the receiving districts, after permission from parents has been secured.
To aid displaced students from Louisiana who have enrolled in Mississippi, Louisiana has given Mr. Jordan’s department a database containing the complete student records for the eight districts most affected by Katrina, Mr. Jordan said.
Unfortunately, that data is in a format that is incompatible with Mississippi’s system. Mr. Jordan said programmers in his department were writing a program to extract the Louisiana data.
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week