Principals streamline school offices

Pittsburgh boasts the third-largest concentration of corporate headquarters in the country (after New York and Chicago) and one of the highest per capita ratios of executives and managers to overall population. Not surprisingly, principals, not students, are getting school computers first.

''The use of data for management and planning is a first priority for us to make informed decisions,'' says superintendent of schools Richard C. Wallace. ''Most schools have not organized data to the extent we're trying to. Administratively, we're trying to be thoroughly analytical.''

The decision to forgo the purchase of stand-alone microcomputers in any large numbers was made by Pittsburgh for two reasons, says James Angevine, director of the management information system. ''We didn't think enough good software was out there yet, and even if it was we knew that if you looked at individual schools, where the learning takes place, the most critical factor in the success of a particular school lies with the building principal as the instructional leader. We chose to make that person more productive first.''

''A computerized management system will first let us measure the academic gains we are seeking, and oversee the efficient operation of the entire district in a more businesslike manner,'' Mr. Angevine says. ''The guts of the system is what lets an administrator get appropriate, accurate information from a data base in time to make a sound educational decision.''

The first information that goes into Pittsburgh's data base is student information on grades, testing, and class scheduling. The second priority is financial data on the district budget. Each building prinicipal will have a discretionary, computer-monitored budget. Personnel records form a third category of data. Community and demographic information completes the record.

Confidentiality and privacy based on an administrative rule of ''need to know'' are being carefully worked out. A student's records will be available only to the principal of the school he attends, plus key central office personnel routed through Mr. Angevine's office.

A districtwide electronic mail system will be in place by September. A Data General minicomputer connected by phone lines will allow school board members, each principal, and the district administration to access the central memory from remote user sites. There will be a terminal and keyboard in each of the 87 schools serving the district's 42,250 students.

The cost to the district for the system installed is $965,000. Two grants from the Buhl Foundation in Pittsburgh totaling $111,000 allowed the district to use the consulting services of professors and students at Carnegie-Mellon University in planning and setting up the network and data base.

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