New School Messaging System Keeps Parents Better Informed

It's the last day of school at St. Martin Middle School. In the midst of all the excitement, students tend to forget some important summer reminders.

"Most of the time, we had to send notes home with children that don't get there," said St. Martin Middle School Principal Michael Van Winkle. "I see them in my parking lot. I see them in the garbage cans."

Instead of sending notes home or calling one parent at a time, Van Winkle can use a new software system to contact every family, instantly.

"The number one reason was emergency contacts," Van Winkle said. "We found out after Katrina, we needed a way that we could contact everybody as quickly as possible."

Using Connect-Ed, Van Winkle can record a personal message or use a computer-generated one.  With a few simple key strokes, the message goes out to all the students, parents, and teachers at the same time. The message can be sent in different languages, at anytime of the day or night, and the system can be accessed from anywhere in the country.

"Now this is just another form of communication we have with the parents," Van Winkle said. "This is instant and automatic. If we want them to have it right now, it goes right now. At least it gives them information they didn't have, instead of coming to the school blind and not knowing what's going on. This is a way to let them have immediate knowledge of what we know."

School district officials are in the process of expanding the system so they can send e-mail messages, conduct phone surveys, and call every parent whose children did not show up for class. That means no more excuses from parents, that they weren't notified.

"The computer system will log who picked it up, and what number picked up. So we know. No hiding anymore," Van Winkle said.

Here are some other neat features about Connect-ED. It can call up to six numbers per family, and will keep trying if there's a busy signal. It can tell if a person picked up the phone or an answering machine, and whether the number is invalid. The superintendent can also use the system to contact every one in the district.