Executive summaries of recent district installations
NAME: Bill Shamblin, director of communications
SCHOOL: Newport (KY) Independent Schools
WHAT THEY USE: Honeywell Instant Alert
How his schools use it: We use it for any sort of mass communication, such as class registration, event notification,attendance, parent surveys, standardized testing reminders, and emergencies.
Why they like it: Imagine you have a district of 2,000 kids, and 150 are absent. Every one of those parents needs to be notified by phone, and you never knew if you had the ability to make those calls. With this system, every parent knows by 8:10 if his or her student is absent.
What he wishes it would do: One limitation is our ability to make sure that the data is current. I would also like to have a date tag on the call so the listener could hear what time and date the call was made.
NAME: Brian Schmick, head webmaster
SCHOOL: Cumberland Valley (PA) School District
WHAT THEY USE: Ed-Alert
How his schools use it: We primarily use Ed-Alert to post updates
quickly on our Web site. We also have the ability to send out e-mail
messages to anyone who has signed up via our Web site. We now also have the RSS feed, so we can send to a phone or PDA.
Why they like it: The biggest thing is that the system is easy to use.
It’s a quick way to get information out there to a lot of people. They
can receive customized alerts about any school information they want
by clicking on certain categories (general, emergency, school board, etc.).
What he wishes it would do: I wish that we could format text without
using HTML tags. We would like it to have an editor that is similar to
what we use for managing the Web site.
NAME: Dr. Michael Escalante, superintendent
SCHOOL: Glendale (CA) Unified School District
WHAT THEY USE: NTI Group’s Connect-ED
How his schools use it: We use the system for routine notification communications, such as the principal’s calling parents every Sunday to tell them about the upcoming week. Our deans of attendance also call parents to remind them about the importance of good attendance. The football coach can call about practice changes and so on. When we learned that two kids had contracted meningitis, we could determine interventions and relieve parents of their concerns.
Why they like it: We can call our 28,000 families in under 10 minutes, as
often as we want. I like the intuitive nature of how to set it up; it is not too
sophisticated to operate. It easily folds in the data from our student information
system; when we update the data into the SIS, it updates communication system
data. It has helped us improve attendance, which gets more dollars for the kids.
What he wishes it would do: I would like the system to offer text-to-speech
in Armenian for our large Armenian student population.
NAME: Dr. Nicholas Ignatuk Jr., superintendent
SCHOOL: Ridley (PA) School District
How his schools use it: We use the School Communication System to respond quickly to snow closings and other school events.
Why they like it: I can download data from our student information system and, in 10 to 15 minutes, compose and record messages. Otherwise, the communication would be through a chain of phone messages through parents. It’s also great for rumor control.
What he wishes it would do:
I would like to have a direct connection to the student database, so we wouldn’t have to update manually.
Christine Weiser is a writer and editor who has reported on K-12 education technology for more than 15 years.