P. O. BOX 2120

March 21, 1997


TO: Division Superintendents
FROM: Richard T. La Pointe
Superintendent of Public Instruction
SUBJECT: Student Information Management Software

As you are probably aware, McGraw-Hill's "School System" and
"Elementary School System" software products are currently in use
in approximately 1,000 schools in more than 100 Virginia school
divisions.  These products were made available at no cost to
local school divisions in 1990 to automate grade reporting,
attendance, scheduling and other tasks associated with managing
student information in Virginia schools.

Version 7.0 of the McGraw-Hill software was shipped to school
divisions last spring.  This is the final version of the DOS-based
software that school divisions will receive under our state
contract with McGraw-Hill.  We expect to be able to contract with
McGraw-Hill for continued phone support for the period July 1,
1997 through June 30, 1998.  We will keep you informed of our
continuing efforts to provide support to software users.   

We will not be receiving Version 7.1 of the McGraw-Hill software. 
Our communications with McGraw-Hill indicate that the chief new
feature of this upgrade is its utility in migrating to the
Windows version of the McGraw-Hill product.  We believe it is
best to approach the data migration issue as part of a future,
competitive procurement process.   In addition, should such a
competitive process be authorized,  migrating to version 7.1
could lead to protests by other vendors.

We are receiving a number of inquiries about the future of this
initiative as localities consider upgrading their existing school
and central office DOS-based computer systems.  It is hoped that
the enclosed document, "Questions and Answers About Virginia's
Student Information Management System," will serve to answer any
questions you may have.

Please do not hesitate to contact Jerry Mathews via phone
(804/225-2950) or VaPen ( should you have
additional questions.


Enclosure:     A hard copy of this memo and its attachment will
               be sent to the superintendent's office.                                                      Page 1 of 2

    Questions and Answers About Virginia's Student Information
Management System

What is the student information management system?

     In the mid 80s, at the urging of local school divisions, the
Virginia Department of Education sponsored an initiative to
procure a microcomputer based software package that would serve
as an acceptable alternative to the Virginia Teacher's Register
for recording and reporting student enrollment and attendance
data.  The Department sought to obtain software that additionally
would automate student scheduling, grade reporting and other
functions that consumed the precious time of teachers and
administrators.  Funds were appropriated by the Virginia General
Assembly.  An acceptable product was selected through a
competitive bid process, and a state license agreement was signed
with Columbia Computing.  Software, phone support and training
were made available to all Virginia school divisions beginning in
1990.  Columbia Computing was subsequently purchased by McGraw-Hill,
and McGraw-Hill has continued to improve the software
product since this acquisition.  Today, approximately 1,000
schools in 100 school divisions are using "The School System" or
"The Elementary School System" software.  Schools are currently
running version 7.0 of this DOS-based product.  This will
probably be the last version of the DOS-based product received by
Virginia school divisions.

Are DOS-based systems a thing of the past?

     By today's standards, DOS-based hardware and software are
considered to be "old" technology.  While this does not mean that
such systems are no longer useful, it will become increasingly
difficult to find support for such systems over the next 2 to 3

     McGraw-Hill is currently introducing its new line of student
information management software which is designed to run on the
Windows operating system and in network environments.  While we
cannot predict the exact date, we expect that within two to three
years, McGraw-Hill will discontinue customer support for their
DOS-based product.  Virginia school divisions using the DOS-based
product will be able to continue using it.  For school year 1997-98,
the Department of Education expects to be able to contract
with McGraw-Hill for continuation of phone support for version

Will the Department of Education provide the new McGraw-Hill
Windows product to Virginia schools, at no cost to school

     McGraw-Hill does not consider their new Windows product to
be an "upgrade" under our current contract for the DOS-based
product.  It is a totally new product.  The Department of
Education currently has no funding or authority to proceed to
purchase a new Windows based product for Virginia schools.  Such
a purchase would have to be conducted in accordance with current
state procurement regulations.  This would be a competitive
process, open to any vendor with a product meeting our
requirements.  There is no guarantee that McGraw-Hill would be
the selected vendor.

                                                      Page 2 of 2

Will the Department of Education sponsor an initiative to obtain
a new software product for schools and school divisions?

     Our Six Year Plan for Educational Technology, adopted in
August 1996 by the Virginia Board of Education, calls for
upgrading our current DOS-based software. A single purchase by
the Commonwealth of Virginia could result in savings of 50% - 75%
when compared to the sum of individual school division purchases
of a similar or identical product.  New product cost estimates
range from a low of four million dollars to a high of thirty
million dollars for full statewide implementation.  To date, the
Virginia General Assembly has not appropriated funds for this
purpose.  If the Department of Education is directed to procure a
new product on behalf of local school divisions, please be
assured that we will involve local division personnel throughout
the process.  Our mutual objective would be to obtain the best
possible product for meeting the needs of Virginia schools, at
the best possible price.

In the absence of a Department of Education initiative, should
school divisions proceed on their own to upgrade their
administrative computing technology?

     The Virginia Board of Education and Department of Education
support and encourage local efforts to apply technology to the
business of running schools and educating children.  Properly
applied, technology has proven its value and worth in school
administration.  Trained people, operating well designed and
properly implemented systems can significantly enhance the
performance of a school or central office.  School operation and
instructional management tasks that are appropriate candidates
for automation, should be automated.  Our human resources are too
limited and too important to consume in the performance of tasks
that can be handled better by machines. 

What are the implications if we choose to upgrade our systems

     Virginia regulations permit local school boards to "...with
the approval of the Department of Education, substitute a
centralized pupil accounting system in lieu of using teacher's
registers."  Schools planning to implement a new system for
maintaining student enrollment and attendance data need to make
contact with the Management Information Systems (MIS) Division,
804/225-2099.  MIS staff will assist you in obtaining the
necessary approval for your new system.

     A future state-sponsored software procurement could result
in a product being made available to localities.   The Department
of Education cannot guarantee or predict that this will, or will
not, happen.  If you choose to upgrade your student information
system software now, this will be at your cost.  Please be
assured that localities will be kept well informed of
developments should they occur.