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Smart phones help school principals stay in the know

When Al Leonard arrived on the scene of a car accident this summer, he knew that one of his students had been hit after leaving football practice, but no one knew the teen's name. Students there knew only that his nickname was "D."

Fortunately, Leonard, principal at South Pointe High, had his iPhone. He flashed several student photos across the screen until classmates recognized the right one. Leonard quickly retrieved the student's family contact information and gave it to emergency medical workers.

That's one of many instances that has convinced Leonard a cell phone might just be a principal's handiest tool.

"It gives me access to the database away from school," Leonard said. "It has helped solve some problems."

From interactive white boards to student net books, technology targeting the classroom tends to draw the spotlight. But it is not just students who are on the cutting edge.

Over the summer, Rock Hill schools bought 35 iPhones for administrators, and the district pays $2,500 a month for service, spokeswoman Elaine Baker said. Several principals, including Leonard, bought their phones with money from vending machine sales, which does not come directly from the district. Others, like Belleview Elementary principal John Kirell, already had one.

The intent is to streamline school leaders' jobs.

It's not so much the phone, Leonard said, but the software that makes a difference.

Principals downloaded an iPhone application that connects to the district's student database. No matter where they are - walking the halls, home at night, or on vacation - school leaders have instant access to critical details.

The records, which don't include grades, show a student's photo, name, age, address and family contact info. They also include alerts for discipline issues.

That's important information to have in an emergency, Leonard said. Plus it's useful on campus. It helps principals get to know students.

For instance, when Leonard drops in on a teacher to observe her class, and a student whom he doesn't know gets called on, Leonard can bring up the teen's info.

"With 1,500 students, it really is hard to get to know them and put names to faces," he said. "It really helps."

Student records are password-protected as are the phones, Baker said.

Leonard has been sold on pocket gadgets since he was principal at Sullivan Middle and using a Palm Pilot more than a decade ago.

As technology changed, he upgraded.

Today he checks e-mails on his iPhone, often responding immediately. His assistant remotely updates his calendar.

"It frees me up totally from having to come in my office," Leonard said. "I'm not an office guy anyway, but I had to check e-mails.

"It really has simplified the job. It makes you wonder what's coming next."