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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Monday, 3/18/2013

Toledo Public Schools system boosts communication

New computer program enhances interaction with parents

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When bad weather hit in years past and Toledo Public Schools canceled or delayed classes, parents and kids had to wait for media reports to cycle through Toledo to learn if there was school that day.

Now, using a new computer system that allows principals and district administrators to record voice messages, TPS staff send out alerts directly to parents, telling them their children have a reprieve from classes.

The new system, a program by private firm Edulink Systems, was installed this school year in an attempt to increase interactions between TPS and parents, TPS communications director Patty Mazur said.

“We hear from parents all the time that they want more communication from the district,” she said.

Parents of TPS students have likely noticed the calls. Principals record a voice message on the system, and then set which parents to send it to. Some go to everyone, others to specific groups.

Valerie Dreier, principal of Old Orchard Elementary, said she’s used the system to remind parents of a rescheduled dress down day, a visit by a mobile vision clinic, and that grade cards were coming. On Friday, she recorded a message to parents that the parent-teacher association had upcoming elections.

The system lets principals record messages from home, as long as they have access to a computer. If a principal thinks of something on a Sunday afternoon, there’s still time to let parents know before classes on Monday.

Ms. Dreier said she tries to use the system at least once a week and has found it very helpful, though she tries not to overload Old Orchard families with calls.

“I don’t want to bother the parents with too many phone calls,” she said.

Amy Wilt, a mother of two Old Orchard students, said she was a fan of the new system, and she likes that Ms. Dreier records the messages herself; it’s not a robot voice on the phone. Schools have always sent home messages with students, but that relied on kids remembering — or with grade cards, not purposefully hiding — the notes.

“Sometimes you don’t get the note with all the papers,” Ms. Wilt said. “Things get lost.”

It’s also a helpful reminder, Ms. Wilt said, of regularly scheduled school delays, special events, or for possible dangers. The district sent out an alert last week about an attempted child abduction, just so parents had a suspect description.

The new alert system is in many ways TPS catching up to other area districts that already use similar programs. The district long has had a automated system to send alerts to parents’ phones. But under the district’s old all-call system, principals had to drive to TPS headquarters on Manhattan Boulevard and record the message there. It was a cumbersome process.

Ms. Mazur said one of the new program’s best attributes is its flexibility. Principals and the district can customize who gets what messages, and can even translate alerts into other languages. The district will send out an alert in Spanish about college scholarship opportunities later this year to families that the district knows speak Spanish at home.

The program costs TPS about $1 a student annually, and there was no initial cost, Ms. Mazur said. Principals were trained early in the school year, and the system was implemented before the holiday break.

While some principals are more active than others, Ms. Mazur said all are using it at least once a month.

Ms. Dreier said a side benefit of the program has been her school has much better records now of parents’ contact information. The system tells schools if messages go to disconnected numbers, prompting the schools to ask parents for new phone numbers.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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