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Wishing on a star: Teachers create attendance program
By Bethan L. Jones
Thursday, April 21, 2005

We know it as Gemini - the bright constellation of Greek twins Castor and Pollux.
     Marcus Tullius Cicero called it Anaces, which is also the name of Lexington High School physics and astronomy teacher David Colarusso's new company.
     For this academic year, Colarusso and his partner, fellow Cornell alum Josh Estelle, created a new database management system for LHS, specifically designed to deal with the school's challenging attendance policy. Colarusso's system has been so well received, he and Estelle are now tracking down new academic clients.
     When Colarusso arrived at LHS three years ago, the attendance policy was a little lax. To make his job a little easier, Colarusso designed a very simple computer program to keep track of his students attendance. When arriving in class, each student had to "click in," the computer recording what time the individual arrived in class. From that, Colarusso could determine whether a student was on time, tardy or just plain absent.
     "It was a way to remove myself as the giver of tardy," said Colarusso, as under the school's attendance policy, a student who racks up unexcused tardies is in danger of failing the class.
     Colarusso's "click in" system worked so well, he asked a few other teachers if they would be interested in his system. It was then he heard about the new attendance system the school was getting for the 2003-2004 school year. The new system would allow teachers to submit attendance via computer and track a students attendance record. Colarusso left in the summer, prepare for his system to be replaced with the new school-wide program.
     "The new system was unsuccessful," said Colarusso.
     Teachers returning in September soon learned the new system made attendance a longer and more complicated process. To make matters worse, the new system was not in sync with the school's attendance policy, forcing teachers to count up tardies, both excused and unexcused, and absences, not actually saving time for the faculty.
     "There had to be a better way," said Colarusso.
     Colarusso took his "click in" system and developed it further, setting it us so it could "talk" to the administrative system and record attendance and track it, "knowing" whether a student was in dangerous territory. He had some teachers in the science department test it out and then approached the LHS central office.
     The school administration expressed an initial interest in the project, but told Colarusso they wanted to ride the year out with the new system before making any changes. While waiting, Colarusso contacted Estelle, who was working on his master's in computer science at the University of Michigan to help him create some more robust software rather than the simple flash program he had created for his "click in" attendance.
     Colarusso and Estelle created a database system which is web based and served off a dedicated server. The system not only makes it easy for teachers to track attendance, but also tracks unexcused tardies and absences and emails the deans each day with a list of students who are missing with their schedule attached so they can be tracked down.
     Colarusso and Estelle phone-conferenced with school officials over the summer, finally getting the go-ahead in August. The two had the system ready to go for the first day of school in September.
     At a mid-year survey of the program, more than 90 percent of those who responded to the survey were satisfied from the Anaces program.
     "People seemed generally really happy," said Colarusso. "It worked out really nicely."
     With the success of the Lexington program, Colarusso and Estelle created Anaces and are looking toward creating systems for other schools. Colarusso sees possible success for his venture as the educational database management market is dramatically underserved. He added those programs what do exist are not made by educators who understand the needs of teachers.
     "This came out of an educator wanting to make things better for a classroom environment," said Colarusso.
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