Magazine article Momentum

Google Docs Help Archdiocese of Boston Span the Miles

Magazine article Momentum

Google Docs Help Archdiocese of Boston Span the Miles

Article excerpt

File sharing helps manage information successfully for 122 schools spanning more than 3,000 square miles

When you have a parish school on the border of New Hampshire, a regional academy in the heart of Boston and a private school near Cape Cod, how do you get them all linked in to the information that you are managing at the diocesan Catholic schools office?

To be a leader in today's educational culture of best practices and data-driven decisions, it is necessary to manage relevant information in a way that it is immediately, universally and securely available to school leaders, central office administrators and other educational partners. While the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools Office strives to be a leader in such a collaborative use of information, realities present hurdles to efficiently and effectively administering such a system.

These realities include the need to manage information successfully for 122 schools spanning more than 3,000 square miles; the existence of a decentralized educational system where member schools cannot be linked unilateral^ into an informational system by decree; limited finances that preclude the purchasing of a wide-ranging data management system; and the lack of familiarity of many school leaders with using such technological tools.

In the hope of overcoming these challenges and implementing an informational system that is immediate, universal and secure across all schools, in March 2011, the schools office launched a pilot through Google Documents, which has provided initial successes alongside continued challenges.

Why Google Documents?

The inspiration for using this system resulted from the experience of serving as an AmeriCorps disaster corps member with the Cape Cod and Islands Chapter of the American Red Cross. My responsibilities with the Red Cross included assisting with the development of a fledging regional disaster plan that included six shelters in addition to their associated supplies. During this time, as a side project, I began to experiment with using Google Documents as a cost-free way to organize shelter data and share the information with others in the central office, because the chapter lacked a shared folder on the hard drive.

However, this intra-office perspective changed on the afternoon of December 19, 2009, when Cape Cod was hit with a once-in-a-generation blizzard that ended up blanketing the Cape with nearly two feet of snow. As a result of this storm, the Red Cross made a decision to open four regional shelters and AmeriCorps members were called on to assist as staff. Soon after, I received a call from a Red Cross volunteer who was nearly in a panic because her shelter on the other side of Cape Cod lacked proper registration documents and shelter opening forms because of a prior oversight The shelter could not open and process potential residents without these documents.

Fortunately, the volunteer had access to a computer that allowed her personal e-mail address to access, download and print resources from Google Documents at the remote location. This included all of the relevant shelter documents, which she was able to print immediately and use to open the shelter promptly and assist residents. Despite the facts that the documents were uploaded in Hyannis and the problem occurred in Sandwich and that everyone was stuck i?-place during an historic snowstorm, a problem was averted because the essential information was immediately, universally and securely available to the shelter in need.

As I began my role as operations assistant at the Archdiocese of Boston Catholic Schools Office, I thought of how those emergency shelters opened across Cape Cod in the midst of the snowstorm and then of the individual schools with limited interaction and limited organizational resources across an archdiocese. I also discovered that the central office had on file many materials that could be of use to school leaders if made accessible: An ever-expanding database of resumes provided by qualified teachers who desired to work in the archdiocese; presentations on topics such as middle schools and financial management that had previously been used in professional development sessions and other information that potentially could be utilized by school leaders, teachers and other staff members. …

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